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Blog Entries posted by tbutler

  1. tbutler
    Our oldest grandchild turned 13 today. Ryan was born almost exactly a year after my retirement and almost exactly one year before we went full time in our motor home. I mention this because his age so nearly parallels significant changes in our lives. From the day we purchased our first motor home in 2001, we were FMCA members. In our 12 years of FMCA membership we have attended five rallies, Hutchinson, KS in 2002; Redmond, OR in 2004, St. Paul, MN in 2008, Bowling Green, OH in 2009 and now the 50th anniversary celebration in Gillette, WY.
    We have been planning on this FMCA Rally celebrating 50 years since FMAC became an organization promoting motor home ownership and enjoyment. We were enticed to attend by the fact that Monaco International planned to have a pre-rally on the same site where FMCA would hold their rally one week later. The opportunity to stay at the rally site for two weeks with full hookups while attending two rallies was too good to pass up. You may notice a certain erratic nature to our rally attendance. We attend when our planned travels make it convenient to get to the location of the rally. Sometimes we build our travels around a rally site. In this case, our plans changed several times before the rally but everything has worked out.
    The rally for Monaco International began on Wednesday, June 12 but we arrived on the early arrival date, June 10, driving in from a 11 day stay in Denver. We soon found out that the predominant weather pattern in Gillette was strong afternoon winds with storms. The first few days of the rally there was a water truck soaking down the grounds to reduce dust. After several storms the water truck never reappeared. We learned to keep our awnings in when we left the coach. After a night listening to the pennants for a soda pop company flapping in the wind, we dropped the tape separating one row of campsites from the next to the ground. That made for much quieter nights.
    There were sessions on a variety of topics, one popular session dealt with the latest changes in ownership of the Monaco family of companies which had occurred only a few days before the rally. Mike Snell, CEO of Monaco, took us through a brief history of Monaco from its bankruptcy and subsequent purchase by Navistar in 2009 to its recent purchase by Associated Specialty Vehicles (ASV). Change continues as Monaco moves manufacturing facilities to new locations and closes other facilities. Future directions for Monaco were discussed and many questions answered. It was too soon after the recent purchase to answer all questions.
    Sunday and Monday were designated gap days, days between the two rallies. A picnic Sunday afternoon and walking tours of downtown Gillette on Monday gave rally attendees ways to stay busy and learn more about the community. Monday afternoon we noticed the parking and meeting signs changed with FMCA's signs now in place. Motor homes were rolling in at a steady rate and the excitement of FMCA was building as the Dealer exhibits began to fill with new coaches.
    When I attend a FMCA Convention I try to take care of many of my needed purchases with the vendors. I also plan to have some repairs done by the suppliers who provide some of the accessories in our motor home. I was frustrated on several of these quests as some vendors were not represented at the rally. Likewise, several key suppliers, a common awning company, the manufacturer for our inverter, and a satellite dish manufacturing company were either not present at all or not offering any service on site. I guess it is a sign of the times, still it is disappointing.
    We did find out what a Cam-Plex is. The facility is a multi-use complex built by Cameron County. The facilities for large gatherings of RV's are quite nice. There are some sites with full hook-ups, others with water and electric and many sites with only electric which is much better than many facilities where we have been for rallies in the past. I would give the Gillette community a big A+ for the facilities and the community support for the rally. We enjoyed the coal mine tour, the bison ranch tour and a couple of rounds of golf on very nice golf courses.
  2. tbutler
    Our summer has been one of little travel and few activities beyond medical care. Fortunately, this has not been life saving medical care. The medical care was more like quality of life care. My left knee was replaced on June 2 and my right knee replacement was done July 28. As a result, I haven't been getting out and about as much as normal.
    Exploring has been a big part of our life since we started living full time in the motor home. We've traveled all 49 RV states and most of Canada. Along the way we drive, hike and explore our surroundings. This summer we have missed that activity until this last week.
    With the healing well under way, I'm becoming more mobile. A fellow camper here at Goldstrike Village in San Andreas where we are staying mentioned that California highway 4 was a wonderful scenic drive into the Sierra Nevada mountains. Having nothing scheduled on Friday we decided to explore that route.
    Our first stop was in Angels Camp to drop off our water pump at the UPS customer center. It's going back to the factory center to be repaired. Leaving Angels Camp our next stop was at Murphys to top off the gas tank, always advisable when heading into the mountains. From there it was a steady uphill drive. The highway is excellent here with a good stretch of new pavement that hasn't been painted yet. We stopped for lunch at Bristol's Ranch House in Big Trees, a fair sized town near the state park of the same name. Louise had the special for the day, stuffed peppers and rated it first class. I had one of the best French Dip sandwiches I've ever had. Prices were reasonable and we were able to eat outdoors on the deck and enjoy the nice weather, sunshine and comfortable in short sleeves and shorts.
    Leaving Big Trees we were headed into high country. We passed up Big Trees State Park wanting this to be a thorough exploration of highway 4. The state park is close enough to our base that we can visit it another day. Once we are at higher elevations scenic view points start popping up. We stopped at several, enjoying the view taking pictures and doing some light hiking. The first stop had just a short trail out onto the white granite bedrock. At the second stop we found longer trails through a feature named H*ll's Kitchen. The granite bedrock was strewn with granite boulders weathered from the native rock. I guess you could picture it as a very messy kitchen.
    We walked around the whole area taking our time and plenty of pictures. This was my first real experience with rough terrain since my surgery so I was slow and deliberate. My right knee is just nine weeks old and I'm still favoring it a little when it comes to up and down grades. I was also being sure footed when picking my way along the trail. Scattered over the landscape are giant sequoia trees which dwarf the tall pine trees among them. Still, these are not the true giants which are found in the state park and further south in Sequoia National Park. It felt good to be back out on a trail.
    As we left this area we passed a sign for the Spicer Meadows Reservoir on the Stanislas River. Louise asked if we could drive to the reservoir and I agreed. It was a ten mile drive into the valley on a smaller, unmarked road through some spectacular scenery. There was very little traffic and one hardy bicyclist on the road. We took our time and enjoyed the ride. The reservoir is beautiful with the surrounding scenery being truly spectacular. I've seen the California reservoirs dreadfully dry in past years but this year the level was quite good for the end of the summer. We walked onto the dam as far as the Department of Homeland Security would allow, then drove below the dam to hike to a view of the generator housing and discharge pipe which feeds the Stanislas River below the dam. There was a full flow of water coming from the six foot diameter discharge pipe and additional water coming from two active generators. This put out a nice spray which the wind drifted to us from time to time. We enjoyed viewing the resulting river rushing downstream as we walked over a low bridge.
    After returning to highway 4, we continued on east toward Pacific Pass and Ebbetts Pass. It was now getting late in the afternoon. As we drove the road narrowed and became serpentine. The road was entirely unpainted, not even a center stripe. Signs cautioned snow plows not to continue past the point where the road narrowed. They also indicated permits were needed for vehicles over a certain size. This was going to be true mountain driving. We continued on for about a half hour, passing over Pacific Pass and descending to the bridge over the North Fork of the Mokelumne River. We had about an hour of daylight left. I elected to abandon further exploration so we could return over the narrow steep curving road in the daylight. We had already had a pair of deer stare us down and there were sure to be more as darkness descended. Besides, who wants to drive on a narrow snake of a road in the dark with oncoming traffic. No thank you!
    We made it all the way back to the town of Big Trees before stopping for dinner. The final 30 miles back to Goldstrike Village were done in the dark but on much better road. We had seen some spectacular scenery, walked among some of the big trees. I felt like an infant that had taken their first steps, I was going to get better and we would be returning to our life of exploring.

  3. tbutler
    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.
  4. tbutler
    Wednesday April 2, 2014. We’re near the end of the New England Highway and we want to make our way to the coast. Looking at all the opportunities, we decide to make a stop at Mt. Tambourine National Park which is south of Brisbane. The attraction there that drew our attention was a Rainforest Walkway. Without knowing much more than that, we left Rochedale headed north on the final leg of the New England Highway before turning off onto the Scenic Rim Highway. This heads east through a caldera formed when a volcano collapsed. The road follows the scenic rim of the caldera giving spectacular views of the surrounding area.
    We pulled into the small town of Boonah for a restroom stop. Louise commented on the chatter of the birds. A little later she asked me what was in the nearby trees. A stranger overhead the question and answered it, those were bats. The chattering noise came from these bats as they rustled around trying to keep cool in the warm sunlight. No doubt this was a difficult challenge for a black creature all wrapped up in its wings.
    We went closer to study the bats. With binoculars we could see their fox-like faces and watch them moving around. We learned that there were two types of bats in these trees, both were fruit bats which live in the tropics in the northern part of Australia. They summer at higher latitudes and then return to the rainforest in winter. While here in Boonah, they strip the trees of their leaves and leave droppings which can be quite pungent. They are protected so there is nothing to be done except to tolerate them.
    In the visitors center we were told that there were ten times more bats a month ago but that one species, the red bats leave earlier than the rest. The remaining black and brown bats will depart soon. Watching the bats, we enjoyed their efforts to keep cool. This resulted in jostling and a constant shuffling of positions. Bats maneuver using the thumb at the bend in their wings to grip branches and shift from one spot to another, something like monkeys moving about in trees. The brown fruit bats photographed best and the photo with this posting features one of these brown bats with a few others in the background.
    There were approximately 500 bats in the trees behind the visitors center. Some branches had a dozen or more bats hanging upside down from the branch. These bats are about a foot long from nose to tail and have a wingspan of about two feet. Occasionally one would fly from one tree to another. In daylight their wings were translucent with their bones outlined almost like an x-ray. In the evening they all leave to go feed. They return each dawn to rest in the trees.
  5. tbutler
    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.
  6. tbutler
    I haven't been doing much work around the motor home lately. My left knee replacement is healing well and I'm up to getting out and around more these days. The water filters in the basement needed replacement so I waded into the midsection of our home. As I began removing stored equipment I noticed little chewed bits of the blue shop towels I use. So now my task becomes a project. Sure enough, there are more and more signs of a mouse. We haven't had one for eight years but it has finally happened again.
    As I dig through the stored materials, more signs emerge. Under the sliding drawer in the forward storage area I find bits of acorns. Somebody had a picnic here. There is only one answer here. Everything has to come out and a good cleaning is in order. One compartment after another is emptied and cleaned. Our son-in-law brings the shop vac which speeds the cleaning tremendously. The trash bag of mouse debris keeps growing. I've grown careless over the years, there are rags that should have been secured that now are waste. A used sponge has been gnawed to a nub. The motor home hasn't been cleaned this well in years.
    Did I mention that the temperature is 97 degrees on a clear sunny day. I have the large awning out and some shade on the other side of the motor home. I'm pushing hard to get done before the sun gets to the door of each compartment. Our grandchildren are enjoying the swimming pool and our daughter is supervising. We visit during breaks. I have to stand up and sit down occasionally. My new knee doesn't take well to all the bending and kneeling. I'm drinking water like a fish at every break.
    The mouse or mice have been throughout the basement. We have seen no evidence in the living area but the storage area has evidence in every compartment. It takes me four hours to finish working through the storage areas. I check every access point. The sewer hose has gaps around it so I rearrange my improvised collar to better block the space around the hose. Everything else looks secure, so this must be the access point. I have two old traps from our only other encounter with these critters. These are baited and and placed in the utility compartment. A quick trip to town secures four more new traps. Every compartment has two traps ... now I'm waiting. It's possible that our daughters family cat, Miss Race Car (named by our grandson when he was six years old), a Norwegian Forest Cat, has already caught up with the offending mouse. I had a conversation with Miss Race Car, who sleeps under the motor home regularly. I impressed upon her that I had been counting on her to keep the motor home free of mice. If she hasn't already done so, I'll get the little rascals.
    The water filters are changed and we have a good flow of water for my well deserved shower. Louise fixes me my favorite libation and sends me out the door to fire up the grill. We'll have steak tonight! We enjoy sitting outside even with the heat. One of the really unusual things about this heat wave is that there has been a light breeze constantly. I lived in Missouri for most of my life and my recollection is that when the weather got really hot the air would be deadly calm. This year we have a breeze and it makes the heat almost bearable. I'm glad to be out and about and back to work. There will be only a few more work days before my right knee replacement on Thursday next week.
  7. tbutler
    I am still trying to put recent events in perspective. We attended a rally in Prattville, Alabama, recently. The rally was sponsored by Monaco RV, a subsidiary of Navistar. The focus of the rally was the Navistar/Monaco LPGA (Ladies Professional Golf Association) Tournament at Capitol Hill in Prattville.
    We arrived on Wednesday, the 6th of October and set up "camp" with our friends Bill and Laura. Over 100 motor homes were parked at the entrance to the golf course during the event. Thursday morning we caught the shuttle to the course, walking distance from our coaches, but if you are going to walk a golf course, saving a few steps really helps. As we waited for the shuttle a volunteer visited with us asking us questions and we in turn asked him questions. It turns out they were still in need of volunteers.
    So, being spontaneous, we volunteered to help with the tournament. Twenty minutes later, we, Louise and I, were standing on the 9th green with our signs to silence the audience. Our friend, Bill, was on the 7th tee. We were marshals for the duration of the tournament.
    Soon the first of the ladies were hitting onto the green. As a rank amateur at golf, I was amazed to see the balls clustered around the flag. These ladies definitely were expert golfers. By noon I was pulled off the 9th green and sent to the twelfth tee. I had a chance to see the ladies hit their tee shots. Being the sole marshal on the tee box gave me a chance to talk with the ladies, occasionally. My day ended when the last of the players had cleared the 12th tee. Louise on the 9th green was still working. There were two starting flights that would conclude at the 9th and 18th tees about the same time. Louise got an early release from her position, as the supervisor took over sole responsibility for the green for the last few groups of the day.
    The next morning, Friday, started at 6:30 a.m. I got to watch the last group from the previous day putt out on the 9th green before we started the next round of the tournament. Today I would be on the 9th tee. All day, through the entire group of 160 ladies, I watched them tee off. The leader in the tournament was 7 strokes under par after the first day. Today, she would add an additional 5 strokes to finish at 12 under par after 36 holes. I would leave the 9th tee at 6:30 p.m. Louise had spent the day with a friend. She made up a plate of food for me from the buffet at the rally.
    After two days, the number of golfers is cut in half. To make the cut in this tournament, ladies had to be two under par! Those who were one under or at par or above were sent home! So now the field was smaller. Our day would be shorter. On Saturday we started at 8:00 a.m. and finished about 3:00 p.m. Louise took over the 9th tee while I was a spotter on the 9th hole.
    Stationed on a knoll overlooking the bend in the dog leg ninth hole, I was responsible for watching the drives off the tee to see where they landed. If any balls went astray, I would help to find them. With 76 of the best players on the tee, not one went astray. Louise helped by signaling the direction of each ball as it left the tee.
    As the day ended Saturday, the leader was 17 under par. Before the end of her round she was 20 under par but had several bogeys in the last three holes. Was this an indication of the direction the final day of the tournament would take? The leader was now tied for first place with another lady also at 17 under par. We enjoyed a thank-you dinner for all volunteers and headed home to our motor home, ready for a good night's rest.
    Sunday morning arrived and we were again on the job at 8:00 a.m. Today I would be on the 9th green, while Louise staffed the 9th tee. In groups of two, the ladies put their approach shots onto the green and then putted out. There were excellent shots onto the green and the occasional stray shot. The leaders were in the final groups and the excitement and crowds built with each passing group.
    The leader came to the green. After going -7, -5 and -5 in previous days, she now was even par after eight holes. Her approach shot put her quite a distance from the cup. A long putt put her closer but here was still a 7-foot putt to be made to par the hole -- it missed by just a few inches. One more hit and she was in the hole but 1 over par for the day!
    She finished the day at 17 under par, the same as she started the day. One lady was 18 under par and the winner finished at 19 under par after making a birdie on the 17 hole. Katherine Hull from Australia would claim the $193,xxx prize for first place and we were there to see it all.
    By the end of the tournament we were completely exhausted. We never dreamed we would be able to watch the tournament from such an intimate viewpoint. This was a bucket list experience that we didn't even imagine we could do! We had watched the best women golfers in the world play golf. There were ladies from five continents in the tournament. If you love golf and have a chance to visit an LPGA tournament, go, you won't be disappointed.
  8. tbutler
    Our campervan has several nagging problems and one big problem. The big problem is the gray water tank which doesn’t seem to vent except through the shower drain. The drain on the gray water tank is very slow and the valve has stops at two open positions but no stop for a closed position. So it takes forever to drain the tank and then when the tank is empty you just have to guess when the valve is closed. I talked to the technician and explained the problem. I also mentioned that the hose for the gray water has a very old ragged looking fitting and I wanted that replaced as well. They cleaned the tank and replaced the old valve and the fitting on the hose.
    We had several weak gas lifters that hold cabinet doors open. If you held the door in a spot for a moment they would hold the door there but if you needed it fully opened you had to hold it my hand. They replaced the lifters and found the problem with one of the latches that was malfunctioning. We also had plastic glasses which were cracked. One of them leaked and was unusable, the others were just a few uses of being in the same condition so we got replacements for those.
    All this took about two hours. In the meantime, Louise and I were deep into our computers, using the free internet at the Britz office. We managed to get caught-up with much of our work. Once repairs were done we closed down the computers, checked all the work and then set out on our way to our next destination. We’re heading back east toward Canberra, the capital of Australia. We put the name of a town along our intended route of travel into the GPS and off we go through northern Adelaide. About 15 kilometers of city driving, stop lights and the occasional round-about and we’re onto the expressway. This turns into an elevated highway for about six kilometers and turns us out into the countryside. About 20 kilometers out of town the four lane separated highway becomes two lane but retains the 110 km/hour speed limit.
    On good highway, the campervan can be safely operated at 110 km/hour or about 70 MPH. The problem is that there are many stretches of road that have roads that are less than good. Several days ago I posted some brief information about the roads we are encountering. The campervan drives like a truck. The suspension feels like a truck and its handling matches. The pavement is often lower along the shoulder of roads which makes the campervan lean toward the shoulder. All this rocking and rolling rearranges many items in the storage areas of the campervan. We often think of the airline caution, “Objects in overhead compartments may have shifted during flight.” Even with all this, the roads in Australia are a definite step up from those encountered in New Zealand. Roads in Australia are wider than those in New Zealand. We’ve encountered a few narrow bridges but no single lane bridges which were common in New Zealand.
  9. tbutler
    Each season we participate in many activities at our winter home, Sandpipers Resort in Edinburg, Texas. One of my favorites is the weekly bicycle ride. Most of our rides originate as a car trip from the park to a location where we ride for several hours and then return to our cars and travel to a unique restaurant for lunch. In the process we explore nature areas, state parks and wildlife refuges. We also visit cities in Texas and in Mexico. Tomorrow will be the last ride of the season. To give you some insight into some of our winter activities, I'll describe a few of these rides.
    Rio Rico is an interesting town just across the Rio Grande River. In fact, the Rio Grande River used to be on the south side of Rio Rico. At that time it was part of the United States. Now it is in Mexico. The land was formally ceded to Mexico in the 1977. We park our cars on border at Progreso, Texas, and cross into Mexico on our bicycles. From Nuevo Progreso, Mexico, we ride East on a gravel road for about four miles to reach Rio Rico. Rio Rico is a small, poor community. There is a school and several churches. The children are out of school for a holiday and they come to visit us as we ride through town. We resolve to bring school supplies on our next visit to Rio Rico. When we return to Progreso we go to Arribas Restaurant and enjoy a Mexican meal on the patio as music plays inside.
    In the small town of Los Ebanos, Texas is another border crossing into Mexico. There is no bridge here, only a small ferry that holds three automobiles. The ferry is attached to cables and is pulled across the river by hand. Pedestrians may assist in pulling the ferry but usually only the tourists do so. We can get about 20 bicycles on the ferry alongside the three cars. Across the river a two mile bicycle ride into the town of Diaz Ordiz takes about 20 minutes for our group. We ride through town seeing homes and businesses. On occasion we have stopped at a bakery for some cookies. The church on the square has been remodeled and we enjoy touring the building. The priest visits with us explaining that the vast improvements were possible with a donation of a church member. After our ride through town we arrive at a favorite restaurant. Villarta features seafood. The menu is in English for us but the waiter speaks very little English. Service is good and the prices are very reasonable. Everyone enjoys eating at Villarta. We return to the ferry for the ride back to our cars.
    About an hours drive West of Edinburg, Texas is the town of Rio Grande City. We park our cars at the Lacks furniture store on a remote corner of their large parking lot. The manager is friendly and happy to give us permission to park there. We ride across the bridge on our bicycles and then four miles into the town of Carmargo, Mexico. We ride through town to a small footbridge where we cross over a stream and then stop for a rest. Those who want some refreshment can stop in the small store and purchase a Coke or a cervesa (beer). We resume the ride to a small village, Villa Nueva. It was founded after people fled Carmargo to escape a flood. After several years without more floods people moved back into Carmargo. There are large abandoned stone buildings and a scattering of small homes. We stop to visit the school. Everyone has brought school supplies to leave with the staff at the school. This has been a tradition of our bicycle rides for at least seven years. Today the children are out for recess following their lunch time. Children swarm us as we arrive. They extend their hand and say, "Good morning," even if it is the afternoon. A teacher explains that they have their English class in the morning so they know good morning. The principal and teachers visit with us and take us through the buildings. We leave them with a teachers desk piled high with paper, crayons, pencils and pens and many other resources. Lunch this day is at El Johnny, a very nice Mexican Restaurant. Here the menu is in Spanish and we all collaborate to interpret the choices. Everyone enjoys their food. We travel back through town and then over the bridge to the US. Each of these three towns are totally different than the typical tourist border town. There are no shops for tourists here and the restaurants are patronized by the local populace.
    We take one tour to South Padre Island, riding from one end of the tourist area to the other. Everywhere we see the damage done by Hurricane Dolly in mid-summer 2008. Roof repair continues everywhere even though nearly five months have passed since the hurricane. We pause to watch dolphins leaping in the bow wave of a passing ship. Admission to the state park is free for bicyclists. We ride past a beach that has only a few hardy people on such a cool day. During the winter, the town is quiet and restaurants are glad to see us. We enjoy some fresh fish at Dirty Al's. Al is dirty, not the restaurant! Good food at reasonable prices.
    Another trip we cycle around Port Isabel. We see the old Yacht Club now being remodeled and turned into a hotel. The owners give us a tour and talk about some of the history of the old building. A side swing drawbridge takes across the ship channel where we can see the shrimping fleet in dock. At the end of the road we can see the causeway to South Padre Island. Our leader describes the events of several years ago when a barge traveling the intercoastal waterway hit one of the bridge piers and knocked down a whole section of the bridge. Several people drove off the high bridge during the night before authorities were notified and closed the bridge. South Padre businesses were severely affected by the loss of their connection to the mainland.
    These are just a few of our bicycle rides. We enjoy exploring South Texas and Mexico, meeting people and learning about the history of the area.
  10. tbutler
    Our bicycle rides from our winter retreat take us to many places. We visit a number of wildlife parks that feature a wide array of animals. If you look at a map of Texas and find the southern tip, you will see that it is well south of much of Mexico. Many animals from Central America make their way as far North as the Rio Grande River Valley. As a result this area is known for its variety of animals. We aren't the only snow birds here. Many bird species that summer in the Arctic spend their winters in South Texas. The Rio Grande Valley is a mecca for bird enthusiasts. This is the only place in the U.S. to see many of the birds that are here. These are a few of the places we visit on our bicycle rides.
    There are a series of locations that have been designated World Birding Centers all along the Gulf Coast of Texas. These extend up the Rio Grande River as well. On our bike rides we visit a number of these parks. The Bentsen World Birding Center near Mission, TX is a particularly rich environment for birds and other animals. Javalina are common and some members of our group have spotted Bobcats as well. There are numerous feeding stations throughout the park. Chachalaca, a raucous large bird similar to a chicken, travel in flocks. Catch a group of them at a feeder and you will see some entertainment! Many of the feeders here have blinds set up so you can be just a few feet from the birds and get excellent views as well as pictures.
    Near Bentsen is the North American Butterfly Association (NABA) International Butterfly Park. On a still warm day you can see hundreds of butterflies. You will find butterfly experts roaming the grounds frequently. They are more than willing to share their experience and knowledge of butterflies with visitors.
    Santa Ana National Wildlife Refuge near Alamo, TX, has many acres of land with numerous lakes. There is only one feeding station here and it is near the Visitors Center. Here as well as at Bentsen, there is no automobile traffic permitted in the park. People may tour on bicycle or foot. At both parks there are trams that circulate to take people into the park and pick them up. At both parks there are viewing stands or towers. This time of year, both parks are manned by birding experts who are counting the hawks as they return from the southern migration. Great groups of hawks known as kettles will gather and migrate northward together. We have seen kettles with over 200 hawks at Santa Ana NWR. A special treat this last year was the sighting of several Coral Snakes.
    Laguna Atascosa NWR is on the coast just north of Port Isabel. This is a large tract of land with a large lake or laguna. Many shore birds are seen here and American Aligators live in the inland bodies of water. There is a 13 mile loop which can be driven or ridden on bicycle. The loop runs along the coast for about 5 miles.
    In addition to these, the Audubon Society has several parks in the Rio Grande Valley. Their parks can be toured only on foot but are somewhat smaller in size. Still they have a wonderful array of animals in a natural setting.
    Most of the animals in the album with this entry have been seen at the above parks. Some of the photographs come from other areas because they were the best pictures I had of these animals.
  11. tbutler
    We left the Australian capital, Canberra early in the morning in order to get into Sydney to visit the Britz office. On the way in we added one more item to our to-do list. An indicator on the instrument panel indicated a light was out.
    The roads from Canberra to Sydney are excellent roads. It is four lane interstate quality highway all the way. As we approached Sydney, we encountered the toll roads. These toll roads automatically bill each vehicle that doesn’t have an electronic pass. The rental campervans have no electronic pass so we would have to get on the internet and log in and pay our bill within three days or the bill would go to Britz and they would tack on a $35 administrative fee to the bill and we would be charged that. Given that, we avoided the toll road.
    Leaving the highway we entered the city streets of Sydney. I had never planned to drive the campervan in Sydney. We planned to bypass Sydney and see the rest of the country. We have hotel reservations in Sydney the last week of our stay in Australia. Driving in Sydney was a real adventure. There are no north/south east/west roads in Sydney. Roads wander around and change names without changing direction. The GPS was no help initially as it simply wanted to route us back to the toll road. Louise took over as navigator, keeping me posted on how to best get to the Britz offices. Still, she was concerned that her map didn’t show the final few streets needed to get to the office. I told her to restart the GPS as our route departed from the toll road and sure enough, it picked us up and routed us right to their office.
    Once at Britz, I gave them a list of repair items to be addressed including the headlight that had burned out on our trip. They directed us to the local restaurant area and said they would pay for our lunch. I told Louise I would stay here and she could go for take-out pizza. Some things were fixed and other minor things were simply going to take too long to resolve. We got the majors done and were on our way by 2:30 p.m. That put us on our way out of town just about the time traffic started to pick up for the afternoon rush hour. The GPS plotted our route and we followed it. We were on the streets for about 30 minutes before it put us on the Western Expressway out of town toward the Blue Mountains. Traffic on the expressway moved along quickly and we were well out of town by 4:30.
    The first park we stopped at was full, a boating competition had a crowd in town. There was no other park here so we decided we’d go to the next town a way down the road. At this point we needed a grocery stop and we found a store in town. We wanted to stock up because the list was long and we were headed out to remote areas where the size of grocery stores and the prices for food would most likely be to our disadvantage. So we stopped at a grocery store and stocked up. When we got back underway, rain was starting. As evening came on the rain and fog began to make driving more difficult. As dark set in we were looking for the next campground.
    We finally found the road we were looking for and it took us to the campground. The office was just closing but the man inside opened the door. He assigned us a spot, gave us a quick orientation to the park and said we should stop and pay for the site in the morning when the office was open. We were home for the night in Katoomba in the Blue Mountains west of Sydney.
  12. tbutler
    After taking our grandsons on a 10-day tour of three states, their younger sisters deserved a trip of their own. We took the recommendation of my sister and took them to the Toy and Miniature Museum in Kansas City, Missouri. The girls are 6 and 4, so the trip was a short one. This was for their sake and ours!
    Since we were traveling to Kansas City, I offered my mother, 85 years old, a ride to KC to visit my sister who lives in Liberty, Missouri. Mom said yes, then no, and finally yes, so she traveled with us. We put her in the copilot seat for the ride so she could ride in comfort. The girls were buckled up on the couch with a supply of toys and games between them. This kept them happy during the trip.
    We hooked up and left my daughter's home about 10 on Friday morning. We picked up my mother about 20 minutes later. The trip to Kansas City from Foristell, Missouri, is about 200 miles. We stopped for lunch at a rest stop near Boonville, about halfway across the state. After eating, we didn't hear much from the girls. I had a nice conversation with my mother during the trip. My wife, Louise, was napping in the back after the girls went to sleep.
    My sister met us at an interchange on the highway, where we transferred Mom from the motorhome to her car. Mom would stay with her for the weekend and then return home with us.
    We continued on to Smith's Fork Campground below the Smithville Lake Dam to our campsite. There were numerous sites to choose from. The first request of the girls was to make the bed for the night! Apparently the boys had been impressed by this chore we assigned them and the girls wanted to get with it right away. While I hooked up, Louise took the girls to the playground. The girls did finally get their chance to turn the couch into a bed. After trying about four different arrangements, they finally settled down and went to sleep. We had some rain during the night, but we woke to sunny skies on Saturday morning.
    The Toy and Miniature Museum was interesting. They had an extensive display of doll houses, which the girls explored from one end to another. They really enjoyed the room of marbles. They liked the story time and drawing their own pictures and coloring them. Much of the museum was more adult oriented and we passed through those areas quickly.
    By the time we got to the gift shop, the girls were more interested in finding something to eat than shopping. So it was off to KFC for lunch. We discussed an after-lunch activity at the Kansas City Zoo, but the rain showers were back, so we abandoned that idea.
    We returned to the motorhome, where we had an abundance of indoor activities for the girls. An evening barbecue with my sister and her family went on as planned. The rain stopped late in the afternoon, so we got to visit outdoors. A niece adopted the girls for the evening and they had plenty of playtime.
    Overnight, another good rain shower ended before I had to disconnect utilities. The trip home on Sunday was uneventful and the girls were happy to be home with their parents again.
  13. tbutler
    Port Hedland was an overnight stop, we left in the morning intending to drive to Exmouth on the Exmouth Peninsula to the southwest of Port Hedland. The road route is over 700 kilometers which was a surprise to me. I had looked at the map and figured the distances at something over 400 kilometers. When I programmed the GPS in the morning I thought it must have a different route in mind. So Louise went to the map and confirmed that the distance was going to be over 700 kilometers. We have driven 700 kilometers in a day but I wasn’t prepared for that this day. We had a grocery stop to make and the trip would require multiple fuel stops so we right away decided that any attempt to get all the way to Exmouth would not work. As we drove we discussed options including staying at some remote location without power or utilities or finding a campground. We decided to drive until late afternoon and then based on where we were, make a decision about our stopping place for the night.
    Leaving Port Hedland we were escorted by dozens of truck trains. Most were associated with the local mining but there were truck trains hauling fuel, heavy equipment, wide loads and more. In this case there is nothing to do but simply keep up with traffic. South of town the Great Northern Highway, which we have driven across Western Australia to Broome and now south, turns inland and so did most of the truck trains. We continued on south on the North West Coastal Highway. Truck trains drive this highway as well but their numbers are about what we have experienced on other highways in the Outback. The road is in excellent shape, we encountered no road work once out of Port Hedland. The terrain on this route is very flat. We could see ranges of hills or low mountains in the distance. The road managed to stay between these obstructions with few changes in direction. I set the cruise in the low 90’s and we rolled along quite comfortably.
    We pulled off the road in Karratha to eat lunch and top off the fuel tank. The next leg of the trip was over 200 kilometers without any fuel along the way. With a full tank we drove for three hours with a short restroom stop midway. We arrived at the Nanutarra Roadhouse about 5:00 p.m. and fueled the campervan. There wasn’t much discussion at this point. It was late in the afternoon the sun would be setting in an hour or so.
    We were seeing cows along and on the road and we had just come through a section which was damaged during recent heavy rains. There were camper swallowing pot holes in the road and places where the highway was so broken up they had put gravel in place to make it easier to drive. Guess how long the gravel stays with the truck trains driving over it. With no traffic in either direction, I could drive slowly and weave all over the road to take the safest way through the obstacles. Facing the prospect of driving through all this in the dark, it was an easy decision to stay at the campground at Nanutarra Roadhouse. Besides, tomorrow is Mother’s Day and Louise should have the deluxe accommodations, restrooms, showers and electric power! Happy Mother’s Day dear!
  14. tbutler
    Our travels this year have been delayed by family illness, a trip with grandchildren, a broken awning, a Monaco International rally and the FMCA International Convention. So it was almost the end of July when we began our summer travels. We will have to return to Missouri to take care of painting the awning we had replaced. We'll head west to California by the end of September and be in our winter resort by the first of November. So we get about six weeks of travel this summer.
    Like all people, we fall into habits. We're used to traveling at a leisurely pace, doing sightseeing for a day or two and then just spending some time around the campground to do laundry or fix a problem item on the motor home. We've learned to rest once in a while just to catch up on sleep. A good rainy-day do nothing day never upset our schedule in the past. There was always something to do indoors. We never had a definite schedule, just a general agenda for the summer. In a good summer we would even tack on an additional stop or two between family visits.
    We hardly ever play golf in the summer but we've played once a week for the last month. Tennis is a winter sport for me but I've managed several matches in the last month. Louise has had several days of card playing. It has been fun but not our normal pattern. In past summers we visited a few friends for a short while then resumed traveling. This summer we are visiting at least 10 of our friends and relatives. When we travel we seldom visit cities. This summer we'll stop in a string of large cities, we are outside New York City right now. Quebec, Montreal, Ottawa are all on our itinerary.
    So this summer we'll experience travel in a different way. I think of it as vacation mode, travel for those whose time is limited. I know real vacationers would love to have six weeks but we've modified our travel plans several times to fit in as much as we can while keeping the quality of our travel. When we read the blogs of others on this site, we feel extremely lucky to be able to travel at all. We are, after all, among the most fortunate people on earth to be able to live this lifestyle. Carpe Diem
  15. tbutler
    After five weeks at home we packed the motor home and set out to touch base with our families. The motor home fix-it list needs some attention so we'll try to get some of those items taken care of on this trip as well.
    Ten years of sun and wind have taken their toll on the awnings on the windows. The fabric is fraying and seams are disintegrating. My plan was to have them replaced locally on our way out of town. I contacted our local RV repair shop, listed as a dealer on the Carefree of Colorado web site. I gave them the appropriate information but never got to talk to the parts department. After several days expecting a return call, I called again. This time I talked to the parts department and they said that our awnings had been discontinued. I asked some questions about alternates and prices. When the information wasn't forthcoming I decided to stop by the shop and talk to them personally.
    When I arrived the parts man was off taking care of personal business. I talked to the office assistant that I had called the first time. In the course of our discussion I found that the part number I gave them didn't match the part number the parts department had researched with Carefree of Colorado. The office assistant had the correct numbers but the transfer to the parts department had been fumbled somehow. She called Carefree of Colorado and gave them the correct part number. Viola! They did have that item in the inventory. I could get exact replacements. So they were ordered. I told them I wanted the shop to do the replacement and I also needed a state inspection. Both were scheduled for the day we were leaving town.
    A week passed and I called to find out the status of the replacement awning fabric. After checking with Carfree, the assistant called me back to tell me they hadn't been shipped yet. She said they wouldn't arrive in time to be installed before we had to leave. I gave her my daughters address as a shipping address. My daughter e-mailed me that they arrived there the day we left town. I guess I'll install them myself. By the way, the motor home passed the Texas State Vehicle Inspection.
    I've dealt with this repair shop before and had positive experiences. The shop foreman retired last year, the office assistant moved up to manager and a new assistant was hired. It is summer in the Rio Grande Valley and the shop was looking pretty idle, a few RV's in the shop but not the time of year when they are usually busy. Most RV's flee north in the spring, taking their owners with them. I didn't see the new manager until I came in for the inspection. I never saw the parts man. The office assistant seemed to be doing most of the work. Will I continue to count on this shop for parts and repair work? Maybe once more just to see if it really is that bad or was this just a fluke?
  16. tbutler
    Mt. Tambourine National Park is a collection of smaller national parks on the slopes of Mt. Tambourine, an extinct weathered volcano. There is a town at the summit which features a variety of shops for those who enjoy quaint towns and browsing curio and antique shops. We went to take a walk in the rainforest. This was not to be an ordinary walk. The walkway was elevated. We walked out of the building that housed a café, a small museum with information about the rainforest into the upper level of the rainforest. As the slope dropped away from the under us, we were looking over most trees and into the largest trees. The walkway was sturdily constructed of metal with a metal grid on the floor. We could see below around and above us as we walked through the trees.
    Signs on the railing of the walkway identified trees and plants along the way. We were looking down on palms with a few of the tallest being at eye level. The palms were flowering and insects swarmed the flowers. Major trees in the Australian rainforest are the eucalyptus tree and the strangler fig. The rainforest covered most of Australia in the past but as the environment and population changed, the rainforest has shrunk to about 10% of the continent.
    In the rainforest, the eucalyptus trees and the strangler figs struggle for dominance.
    Eucalyptus trees fight the strangler fig by shedding their tendrils. Their bark easily peels from the tree so the strangler fig can’t attach to them. The figs are very effective at taking over other trees. Figs start when bird drop their seeds in their droppings on a tree branch. These seeds will sprout and live in the branches of the tree while they grow vines down to the ground which will become roots. Eventually the fig grows to surround the entire host tree and covers it shading it, starving it of sunshine. The fig then becomes a free standing tree. As the host tree rots away, the fig fills in missing tree with more of its vines. The figs were covered with fruit which was ripening. These provide a rich source of food for the birds of the rainforest. The rainforest is a tangle of vines of the figs, they are everywhere.
    One of the birds we saw was the Wompoo Fruit-Dove, a large dove almost 20 inches from head to tail. It is a beautiful bird with a white head, green wings, plum purple breast and yellow abdomen. The dove is an ally of the strangler fig. It feeds on the figs and drops the seeds which sprout to form more fig plants. These in turn feed the doves.
    An animal which we didn’t see but which lives in this rainforest is the Koala. They feed on the eucalyptus leaves and sleep during the day high in the trees. They are difficult to spot as they cling to the trunk of a tree resting on a branch they become just another bump on the tree. We were told where they are sometimes seen and looked for them but our untrained eyes were unsuccessful. We hope that we will be able to find one as our exploration of the Australian rainforest continues.
  17. tbutler
    Our motor home always has something that needs fixing. This has been the history of the coach since we bought it. This is not a complaint, it is the nature of a well used motor home to need things fixed on a regular basis. Call it upkeep or maintenance, it has to be done. I'm glad that I enjoy doing things myself because the cost of hiring someone else to repair all the minor things that can go wrong would be exceedingly expensive.
    We just reached the 120,000 milestone on our last trip. That meant that the transmission fluid and filters needed to be replaced. We were en-route across Kansas when this occurred. I put Louise to work while I was driving, looking for an Allison dealer somewhere in Kansas in the hope that we might get an appointment and be able to stop and get this done that afternoon. I handed her my iPhone so she could do an internet search. So we started with opening the browser, that is the third button from the left on the bottom line. It is labeled Safari. When it opens, tap the space that says search. Type in Allison. She says I thought we had a Cummins engine. Now I give my five minute lecture on the transmission. Later I would follow this up with pictures of transmissions but for now I'm driving so I have to rely on words which we all know take at least 1000 to make a picture.
    So it is back to the iPhone, the Allison International web site comes up. Louise can't find any way to navigate from there to finding a dealer. She describes what is on the screen, I suggest trying several things, nothing works. Thank goodness there is a rest area coming up. I park and take over the search. She is correct, if there is a way to get from Allison International to any kind of dealer search I can't find it either. So I start trying other things. I take the basic web site entry, http://www.allison and delete the /index one letter at a time then put something like /dealer and I get a different screen which asks for country and half a dozen other choices before I finally come to a list of Allison dealers in Kansas. Louise says how did you do that. I start to show her and realize I can't duplicate any of it.
    I called the dealer in Salina, a friendly voice answers (always a plus). It is 10:00 a.m. and I ask if there is an appointment available later today to change the fluid and filters in the Allison 3000 in my motor home. He starts naming off times starting at 12:00 noon. I'm at least 120 miles away and we will stop for lunch somewhere so I select a 3:00 appointment figuring that will get us out the door by 5:00 closing time and we can camp somewhere nearby. I'm amazed, the usual answer to a request for work today is laughter. So we have an appointment.
    It took us a little over two hours to cover the distance to the Salina and another fifteen minutes to find the dealer location which was right by the interstate exit but the Garmin GPS had no clue! We unhooked and backed into a bay at 1:00. We were allowed to stay on board the entire time. They set up a fan, opened the engine compartment, and basically let everything cool until 3:00 when the actual work began. Everything was done by 4:30 and we were on our way by 5:00. The dealer had hours until 7:00 p.m. so it wasn't like they were hurrying us out the door. I was delighted to have this done while en-route rather than having to pick up and travel to and from a dealer to get the work done. We drove to Topeka and made our way to the Hilltop Campground on the NE side of Topeka. This was well off the beaten path but gave us a great nights sleep and a good start for the next day.
  18. tbutler
    The next leg of our trip begins with an early wake-up. I was checking weather when it started to rain. It was a light rain but I had to unhook the utilities so I quickly went outdoors to unhook the water and sewer. The car had to be run before towing and I took care of that. I came in with a wet head and damp shirt. I dried my hair and hung the shirt to dry. Louise woke and I ate breakfast while she got ready to travel. Louise doesn't like to eat early in the morning but she does want her coffee. She had set the coffeemaker and coffee was already brewed and waiting. Once she was ready, we brought in the slides and I unhooked the electric. We were on the road at 8:00 a.m.
    We had stayed at the KOA at Choctaw Casino in Durant, Oklahoma, which is right on US 75/69 and we would stay on highway 69 all the way to I-44 at Big Cabin. We have traveled this route many times, it is one of the shortest routes from the Dallas/Ft. Worth area to the St. Louis area. Highway 69 is very rough in spots but the traffic is usually free flowing and it is two lane all the way. There are small towns along the way which have low speed limits and the smart driver watches those speed limits very closely.
    As we pulled out of the campground the rain was increasing. It rained all the way to I-44. The amazing thing was that it would change almost constantly. One of my major tasks driving was to adjust the windshield wipers to the varying rate of rainfall. The rain was mostly light but the road was always wet. Passing trucks meant a heavy shower of water. We made good time, we were at Big Cabin by 1:00 and made that our lunch stop. We pulled into the fuel stop there and parked in the trucking area. I had to adjust one of the windshield wipers while Louise fixed sandwiches for us.
    Leaving Big Cabin we passed through the entry toll booth to the Will Rogers Turnpike. Passing through the payment booth the clerk didn't even look at the ticket and rang up the charge for the full length of the turnpike. I asked her to look at the ticket and she corrected her mistake. I thought the tickets were programmed to ring up the proper charge but I guess not. I'll have to watch these more carefully from now on.
    At Joplin I pulled into the Flying J to fuel up. The rain was on again, not heavy but enough that I was wet once more. It always takes longer to fuel at the RV pumps. I put in 80 gallons to take care of the drive from San Antonio where we last filled the tank. We got 8.3 miles per gallon on this leg of the trip, right on our long term average MPG. Leaving Joplin the rain stopped and the remainder of the trip was dry. The really amazing thing was that the temperature stayed in the 70's all day long. We had been driving in searing heat in Texas and the trip in Oklahoma and Missouri didn't even require that we run the air conditioners.
    We made one more rest stop in Sullivan, Missouri to get dinner before the final few miles of the trip. We knew that there was a Wal-Mart near some restaurants and we were going to park there while eating at the nearby KFC. When we got to Wal-Mart they had barriers for tall vehicles at all the entrances so we drove on down the access road to another shopping area and parked there, walking a few blocks to the KFC.
    From Sullivan it is less than an hours drive to my daughters family home in Foristell. We helped fund a parking pad for us in the rear of their home. I helped plan the utilities and we have full hookups here. They have hosted us for stays in the area ever since. Arriving just before sunset, we parked, leveled, hooked up water and electric and put out slides. I surveyed the motor home and was pleased to find that the exterior didn't look too bad. It will need a wash but not nearly as dirty as I expected. The toad was another story.
    After a short visit we were in for the night. We needed a good nights rest in preparation for our grandsons first marching band performance of the year the next day. The performance was the closing event of a two week band camp which helped prepare the marching band for their fall performances. Our grandson is a freshman and this was his first performance with the band. We were impressed with all that he had learned in two weeks. It rained during the picnic before the performance but the rain stopped for the marching performance. I washed it the next morning.
  19. tbutler
    Adelaide is the largest city in the state of South Australia. It is the smallest of the five cities in Australia with a population over one million. It is located on the southern coast of Australia in the State of South Australia. The Murray River is the largest river in Australia and its mouth is just east of Adelaide. It was the Murray River that we crossed on a Ferry on our way into Adelaide.
    We have arranged to have some repair work done on the caravan at the Britz office in Adelaide on Monday morning. Somehow that has a familiar ring to it, where have I heard (or written) that before? Since we were arriving on Sunday, we needed to find a place to stay for the night. Louise set the GPS for the Big 4 Holiday Park in Adelaide. This time it didn’t work. There were two choices and neither was exactly correct so she picked the closest. When we couldn’t find the park, we drove on a bit further then pulled over and Louise called Big 4. They told us to put the address in the GPS as 6 Military Highway instead of the 1 Military Highway that is their actual address. Seems this was a common problem as they gave us the solution without hesitation. We were about 10 kilometers away!
    Sometimes mistakes turn out to be good events and this was the case here. Looking for a place to turn around I came upon a shopping center with a K-Mart. I had a list of things I wanted to get for the caravan that would make life a little better.
    The heat pump in the camper is working for a source of heat but it runs constantly and then kicks in and out making a bit of noise and vibration each time. It isn’t helping my sleep. Britz rents an electric heater, small floor model, for $7 per week which would be $70 in our case. I found one in K-Mart for $19 so that was a deal. It works great for the small space in the caravan and is not so noisy.
    Britz also rents bag chairs, for sitting outside. I picked up a pair for much less than they charge. I got some cleaning supplies so I can keep the windows clean and a container to store the gray water hose which they had lying on the floor in a storage compartment with the fresh water hose, a broom and bucket. That compartment is also where we store our duffel suitcases so I wanted to keep it clean and not have gray water leaking out onto all those other things.
    I couldn’t find a lens cap for my main camera lens. The one I’ve used for years finally broke. A small spring retains the lens cap in place holding it against the threaded inside surface and the plastic support pin that anchors the spring broke. I’ve checked several photo shops, everything is digital, most cameras they sell are compact digital cameras. I’m going to have to find a real camera store that sells to professionals. Personnel in the stores I checked gave me several suggestions, all in downtown Adelaide and I’m not taking the caravan there.
    The Big 4 Holiday Park in Adelaide is located right by the beach. We were separated from the beach by a row of dunes but could hear the surf in the park. Beach parks are always sandy and there is no way to keep the sand out of the caravan. We sweep several times a day when we are in these parks. I have a small rug for use outside the camper but even that doesn’t do the job to get rid of all the sand on our shoes or feet.
    It was windy at the park when we pulled in and overnight it rained. This wasn’t just a light rain, it rained and blew hard. There were puddles in the roadways when we left in the morning. I had watched a group of four young people set up a tent in the evening. I wondered how they slept during the night. Their tent was still up and there was no sign of them stirring in the morning so I guess they were finally getting some sleep.
  20. 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.

  21. tbutler
    May 29, Thursday, we bid farewell to Australia. After three months our Australian adventure comes to a close. A van to the airport, check in with the airlines and proceed through security and we’re on our way. Of course it just doesn’t happen that quickly. We awoke at 5:00 a.m. to catch a shuttle at 5:30 to the airport. By the time we’ve checked our baggage, it is 6:30. We’re given an exit card to complete to clear customs and immigration as we leave Australia. We stopped for breakfast and this gives us a table and time to complete the questions on the card. Louise picked up several books (3 to be exact) because you just can’t find books everywhere anymore and it is a long flight to our next stop in Auckland, New Zealand.
    Five hours later we were in New Zealand. It really wasn’t five hours in the air, there is a two hour time change between New Zealand and Australia. The country has a wonderfully familiar look. We were here four months ago! Our hotel was near the airport and we got a shuttle to take us to the hotel. A nice room with a Jacuzzi greeted us and we both got our money’s worth from that Jacuzzi! Our night was short again, we were up before 7:00 a.m. to be ready for the airport shuttle at 7:30. Grab the bags and run – that’s our motto. We got cards to clear customs and immigration in New Zealand and then on the plane we got arrival cards for Fiji.
    The flight to Fiji is a short hop, 2 hours and 30 minutes straight to the north of Auckland. We arrive shortly after 2:00 in the afternoon. Transport to our hotel in Lautoka just 20 miles away is quickly arranged. We are sharing a van with another couple and their two children. They are from New Zealand on a winter vacation to Fiji. The ride to Lautoka is an awakening. We are in a genuine third world country. For all its romantic image, the nation of Fiji is a very poor country. Poverty is evident everywhere. Our hotel, the Tanoa Waterfront Hotel is a quality hotel and our room is very nice. The food at the restaurant is excellent. After two early mornings we slept in late. Check out is 11:00 a.m. and we have three or four hours after that until our cruise boards. We got lunch and then relaxed in the lobby until time to get a cab to the docks for our cruise. It is a five minute ride to the dock and then a half hour wait with the rest of the arriving crowd until we are able to board.
  22. tbutler
    Stick a pin in the center of Australia and you would come close to hitting Alice Springs. This is our next objective. We left Tennant in good time in the morning headed south on the Stuart Highway. We have the day to cover about 530 kilometers, somewhat less than our goal for the last two days. Fuel stops are more common now as this highway is more heavily traveled. This allows us to continue traveling for a longer period of time without stopping.
    Not far south of Tennant we encountered a scenic area. With fewer kilometers on our travel schedule for the day, we pulled off to travel through a short road paralleling the Stuart Highway. The road took us through an area called the Devils Marbles, Karlwekarlwe in the Aborigine language. For the Aborigine this was a sacred site. Groups from several areas would meet in this location each year for a social and ceremonial gathering. Stories from the Aborigine culture and information about the geology of the area helped us understand both.
    Other than that stop, we stopped at one bar/gas station. Diesel was $2.147 at this stop. I went in to pay the bill but had to go back outside to read the pump as they didn’t have a connection from the pump to the register. How long has it been since you have seen this? We made a note of other stations on the route in preparation for our return trip. We also noted a number of other stops we might make on our trip to Darwin on the north coast.
    Alice Springs is a good size town, the third largest town in Northern Territories. There is a large Aborigine population here and many seem to be unemployed or underemployed. The history of Australia and the treatment of the Aborigine is similar to the US history with the native Indian population. A clash of cultures and the looser suffered under years of persecution. Recovery from this situation is difficult but I can see the Australian people are making an effort to rectify the situation. Aborigine culture is part of almost every exhibit we have seen and Aborigine tribes have been given control of many lands that were historically theirs. This includes control of national parks or parts of national parks.
    We visited several sites in Alice Springs in our three day stay. On the top of the list was the historic part of town which had a number of historic buildings and a collection of art, cultural and civic museums. We started with the National Pioneer Women Hall of Fame. The exhibits honored women from all of Australia who were the first to enter a profession or to achieve great accomplishments, overcoming cultural practices that limited women’s choices of career choices. The stories were inspiring and the exhibit was really first class. We also made a quick visit near closing time to the Flying Physicians Museum which detailed the history of medical service to the Australian Outback.
    Our third day in town was devoted to flying. As a pilot, I need to fly on a regular basis to maintain my currency. When I travel for extensive trips in the US, I like to rent a plane somewhere and go sightseeing. In foreign countries, I would need to obtain an endorsement for my US license or a separate license in the country in which we are traveling. As an alternative, I can hire a flight instructor and take a flight lesson that allows me to fly a rental plane. It is a work-around and one that I welcome, I have flown with dozens of flight instructors over the years and have enjoyed learning from most all of them. Simon was no exception, he charted a course from Alice Springs out to Bond Creek where I made several landings on a bush field, or as he described it, a dust and dirt field. This was a first for me and I greatly enjoyed the chance to venture outside my normal experiences. We also flew along a mountain range to the west of Alice Springs and I enjoyed seeing the interesting rock formations. We left Alice Springs on Wednesday morning heading for Uluru, the big red rock at the heart of Australia, AKA Ayers Rock.
  23. tbutler
    Our last trip to Alice Springs we were southbound toward Uluru. This time we were returning from Uluru and Kings Canyon. Our normal travel pattern is to avoid backtracking over the same route. If at all possible we will take a different road on a return trip. In this case there is one road from Alice Springs to Uluru. There was an alternate route from Kings Canyon that would cut off some distance and give us different scenery. That road was a dirt road. We gave it a try but found it badly washboarded which seems to be standard for the dirt roads here. The road was 99 kilometers long and the campervan rides like a truck. We decided it wasn’t worth saving the fuel and seeing some different scenery just to have the campervan fall apart around us.
    We rolled into town late in the afternoon and went immediately to the grocery store. Our tucker (Aussie for food) was getting thin. We spent $186 Australian, $174 US to restock the cabinets. Tucker is not cheap here in Australia. Then we headed for Wintersun Caravan Park. This is a Top Tourist park and we chose to stay here because the park we stayed in before had internet but it was so expensive and limited that I refused to use it. As we were checking in we asked about the internet and found out theirs wasn’t in service due to some kind of problem which couldn’t be resolved before we planned to leave. We decided to stay anyway, we could eat lunch tomorrow at McDonalds and take advantage of their free internet. We parked, put groceries away, ate dinner, showered and hit the sack.
    The following morning started with breakfast and then Louise wanted to get the laundry caught up. I helped her haul the three sacks of dirty clothes and linens to the campground laundry. She loaded the machines and returned to the campervan for a brief rest. Then when the machines were done she went back to hang the laundry on the line. All the parks here have extensive clothes lines for patrons to use for drying clothes. They almost universally prohibit putting up lines on your site. I joined her and carried clothes out to her to hang on the lines. With that done, we set out for McDonalds.
    The food at McDonalds is almost the same worldwide. There are some local differences, one of the biggest is that the McDonalds restaurants here incorporate a coffee shop much like the Tim Horton’s in Canada. There are two counters, the restaurant counter and the coffee shop counter complete with all the rolls, etc. We’ve used the internet at other McDonalds here in Australia and had reasonably good luck but this restaurant had really poor internet with very slow downloads and frequent interruptions in service. We gave up after accomplishing little in an hour. Our next stop was to get fuel for the trip the coming day. We headed for the Shell station on the north side of town. On the way we stopped at the local Britz office and had a couple of problems fixed. Britz has free internet at all their offices so we jumped at the opportunity while the repairs were being done.
    Back at the campground we collected the clothes from the line and put them away. Then we spent some time looking at the coming weeks and getting some idea of what we might be able to do with the time that remains for us in the campervan.
  24. 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.
  25. tbutler
    In 2012 Louise and I celebrated our 20th wedding anniversary. We couldn't decide what to do or where to go for the celebration. Living in south Texas now, we didn't want to travel north in December so we decided to postpone the celebration for a special trip of some kind. We received an advertisement for a cruise from a company we had cruised with once before. This was a really exotic cruise, perfect for an anniversary celebration. Two weeks cruising the Fiji Islands, Vanuatu and New Caledonia. We put our deposit down with about a month before the commitment date. The no refund date passed without much discussion, the trip was on. Scheduled for the first two weeks of June 2014, it seemed quite a long way off.
    Soon after making the decision to take the cruise, I pointed out that Fiji wasn’t really too far from New Zealand and Australia. Can you see where this is going? We discussed that and put it aside. From time to time one of us would bring up the idea of extending the trip for the cruise to include New Zealand and Australia. At FMCA in Gillette, Wyoming last spring we attended a session on traveling in New Zealand and Australia in campervans with the tour group associated with FMCA. The presentation sounded great, we made notes and inquired about the price. It all sounded good until we sat down to discuss details, the price quoted was per person, double it for the two of us. That was a lot more than I was prepared to spend for a six week trip to the two countries. Louise and I are not tour people, we don’t like to be on a schedule when we travel. We’ll do it when we must but we much prefer to make up our own schedule as we go. So we decided to go it on our own.
    Finally last fall, we decided that if we were going to see New Zealand and Australia we need to start making arrangements. Louise took the lead contacting New Zealand Airlines to get prices and information on flights. They service all three destinations so we settled on them. Louise started planning a three week trip extension for the two week cruise. I said that I wanted to make the trip a full year to allow us time to see everything we wanted. That’s when the fight started!
    I found a set of suggested drives for Australia, two week loops that covered most of the country. There were about ten of them so this was far beyond what Louise wanted. We talked and settled the argument on a four month extension of the cruise. We would spend one month in New Zealand and three in Australia. I anticipated doing this following the cruise but Louise wanted to be back in the US following the cruise. So I agreed to scheduling the trip before the cruise. Somewhere in there is a lesson for the US Congress I believe.
    Louise began to go to work with the airlines and their travel agency. We booked flights for the entire circuit from Los Angeles to Auckland, New Zealand then after a month we would fly from Christchurch, New Zealand to Melbourne, Australia. At the end of three months in Australia we would fly from Sydney to Nadi, Fiji for the cruise. Then at the conclusion of the cruise we would fly from Nadi, Fiji to Los Angeles. From there we built in the details. We would rent a campervan in Auckland and return it in Christchurch, making a ferry trip from the north island to the south island on a ferry so we reserved the ferry trip.
    In Australia we would stay in a hotel in Melbourne for three days then take the ferry to Tasmania where we would stay in a hotel for a week traveling by rental car to tour the island. When we returned to Melbourne we would pick up another campervan and travel for 10 weeks going north along the east coast up to Cairns then traveling west along the north coast to Darwin and finally traveling south to Perth. We would leave the campervan in Perth and fly to Sydney. Our visit to Sydney, would involve a hotel stay for a week then fly to Nadi, Fiji. All this was going to cost us in the neighborhood of what the six week trip with the FMCA travel agency was charging but we would get four months on our own schedule seeing just what we wanted. What will follow in the coming days and weeks is a running commentary on this trip.
    I just checked my records and this posting is number 100 for this blog and comes at the end of 5 years of activity on the FMCA web site.
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