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Blog Entries posted by tbutler

  1. tbutler
    A common cartoon has a child with a knapsack on a stick running away from home.  It may be that cartoon that inspired my wanderlust.  I love to travel and for ten years we lived in our motor home full time.  In 2010 we put a mobile home on a lot in Sandpipers Resort in Edinburg, Texas.  That transitioned us from full timers to part time RV'ers.  It also created a challenge in classifying our status, we are no longer snowbirds or Winter Texans as they called us in the Rio Grande Valley of Texas.  Now we are Texans who flee the heat of summer.  I like the term summer chickens to explain our status. 
    When we were full time, there were several occasions when we responded to family illness.  The first occurred just a week after we purchased our second motor home.  We were in Louisiana enjoying the bayou's and learning how to operate our new home.  Louise's sister called.  Their mother had experienced a sudden change in her health.  Louise's sister was staying with mom but she needed to return home.  Two days later we were in Lake Havasu, Arizona parked next to mom's house.  Breaking camp was a simple matter of disconnecting utilities and stowing any loose objects in the coach.  We were on our way almost immediately. 
    Another time we performed this drill, we were located at Sandpipers Resort, on our RV lot.  We had taken an annual lease on the lot and were settled in with a storage shed, some patio furniture and other supplies for enjoying the winter in Texas.  We were just a few days from being ready to pack up for summer travel when we got word that Louise's mother was taken to the hospital with a heart attack.  She was in Denver by this time, staying with Louise's youngest sister.  Packing everything away and getting the coach ready to travel took us about 24 hours, we were on our way the next afternoon. 
    Now we have a home, packing up for summer is an extended process.  There is more stuff to be stowed, the coach has to be made travel ready, a few items have to be relocated from the house to the motor home.  Now we start the real process about a week before our intended departure.  There is a list of things that have to be done before leaving the house, a visit from the exterminator, the semi-annual check of the air conditioning system, arranging for mail and lawn care, renewal of the annual contract and taking care of any maintenance items, last minute doctor's visits.  The list goes on and on.  When we do finally pull out of the driveway and roll down the road, things get simpler, we are once again living our RV lifestyle.  For the next six months we will travel, visit family and friends, wander around the country, ready to pick up and go anywhere, anytime.  Once more we are like the child with the knapsack, a really big, comfortable knapsack!

  2. 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.

  3. 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.
  4. tbutler
    In the 2001 movie, Rat Race, Kathy Bates tries to sell a squirrel to Whoopi Goldberg and her daughter.  They defer but ask Kathy Bates for directions.  Being a race, they are traveling at breakneck speed down one road after another following the directions.  Finally at one point, hurtling down a gravel road with dust billowing behind they pass a sign:  "You Should Have Bought a Squirrel."  That is followed by a scene of them going over a cliff, landing on a pile of rusted and wrecked cars.  It is one of our favorite moments in a favorite movie.  It is also a quote we use frequently as we travel, not only on the road but through life.  One or the other of us will turn to the other and say, "We should have bought a squirrel." 
    Our travels this spring have brought back that saying frequently.  It starts with a problem that I've been trying to get fixed all winter.  Repeated visits to repair shops still yields no solution.  We have no taillights.  The turn signals and brake lights work.  The emergency flashers work.  We still have no taillights.  So we are restricting our travel to daylight only.  For the most part, that isn't a problem since I have avoided night travel for the last several years. 
    Given that condition, we departed early on the morning of April 18 to attend the Lone Star Chapter of FMCA rally in Johnson City, TX.  Arriving there just after noon, we parked.  I went to step out of the coach and found that the electric step hadn't opened fully.  After stepping out of the coach carefully, I examined the step to find that a link from the motor to the step was missing.  Not broken, it was gone!  I carry a separate step for those days when the front of the coach is raised well above the ground.  So we used that step for the rally.  I used zip ties to fasten the disabled step in the retracted position for travel to our next destination, Austin. 
    Monday I had an appointment to get two new Michelin tires mounted on the coach.  I have adopted the practice of replacing the front tires every two years and then moving the used front tires to the rear, both tires replace the oldest pair of rear dual tires.  In this case, the coach wasn't in a shop, the work was done outside the shop so I had complete access to the coach and could talk with the workers. An aside, I have yet to find a tire tech who knows how to properly torque a lug nut.
    As they were mounting the tires on the rims, I inspected the brake rotors and gave the underside of the front of the coach a good looking-over.  Peering into the area behind the drivers-side tire I noticed something strange.  There was a large object dangling there in the center of the coach.  I recognized this as the supplementary air compressor which is part of the HWH air leveling system.  It maintains our  level position when we are parked and it was still working.
    The pump and it's mounting plate weighed at least 30 pounds and they were hanging by the air hoses (2) and the electrical supply and control wires.  Had this dropped off en-route, who knows what would have been destroyed in the process.  After bouncing along under the coach, it would have encountered our GMC Acadia!  I considered myself very lucky, fortunate to have found this dangerous  condition.  I found a large C-clamp in my tools and was able to clamp the remaining mounting plate to the frame.  I've added a second clamp to help secure the assembly just to be sure. 
    I have an appointment at the factory service center to get this properly remounted but we will travel at least 1500 miles before that happens.  I'm not going to turn over welding on the frame to just anyone.  What had happened to the original mounting plate?  It had cracked, all the way across a 3/8" steel plate that was about 10" wide.  Apparently 170,000 miles of highway travel had vibrated it to the point that it broke!  The piece that was welded to the frame is still there and it matches the piece that broke off.  Metal fatigue had nearly done us in.
    I ordered a rebuild kit for the Kwikee Step, new motor, linkage, control center, it was all different since our step was new.  I was able to successfully install that at home before we left for the summer on May 5.  Our second day out we stopped at an RV park in eastern Louisiana.  The next morning, Louise cranked the engine to air up in preparation for bringing our slides in before departure.  She turned the key, the engine answered, "Uggg."  I stopped my disconnecting process to go inside and jump the engine battery with the house batteries.  Successful, I went back outside to finish getting us road ready.  Before leaving we decided to run the generator but the house batteries didn't have the umph to crank the generator!  So with the engine now running I jumped the house batteries with the engine battery.  The generator started.
    Now with everything running, I got on the computer and then the phone to call a RV shop along our route.  With luck, I called Billy Thibodeauxs Premier RV Inc. near Lafayette, Louisiana.  Finding the shop was an adventure, if you decide to follow in our footsteps, check their website for the best route to get there.  Ashley was very friendly and efficient.  By the time we arrived just before noon I was informed that the batteries would be delivered to the shop by 1:30 p.m. and they would install them as soon as they arrived.  Believe it or not, we were back on the road by 3:00 p.m., $1900 lighter but with good batteries.
    Leaving I-10 for I-59, we left the heavy traffic behind and pulled into a truck parking area just before sunset (remember our coach turns to a pumpkin after sunset).  Our final adventure for the initial trip occurred in Chattanooga, TN.  Passing through town on I-59/I-24 to get to I-75, we were in the center lane of rush hour traffic.  Coming down a hill I applied the brakes as traffic came to a stop.  The fuel in the fuel tank sloshed to the front and the engine stopped!  Yes, I knew we were low on fuel, a station was just up the road on I-75 and we planned to make that stop our night stay at Walmart.  I tried to restart the engine, no luck.  Whoever was behind us on the right side must have realized our situation because they stopped to allow us to coast down the hill through the right hand lane to the shoulder.  I came to a stop just before an overpass but on level ground.  Now on the level, the engine started.  I wondered how long that would last but pulled back onto the highway and we continued on.  Now I stayed in the right lane.
    Looking for the Walmart and the accompanying Murphy station, we came up empty.  It wasn't where the GPS led us.  I had established several years before that Murphy isn't a subsidiary of Walmart and there are stations that are located at separate locations.  It turned out the station was there but Walmart wasn't.  As we passed it later, I looked and it would have been a difficult in and out for us.
    Passing the location, we noticed a small station on the opposite side of the street.  They had  diesel and at the same price as Murphy.  We frequently patronize small stations but I do approach them with extreme caution.  The canopy has high enough, the in and out route was do-able so we looped through a large parking lot and returned to that station. 
    Louise got out to scout for the diesel pump as I idled on the road in position to pull up to the diesel pump wherever it was.  She signaled a location and I pulled in.  I put 109 gallons of diesel in a 127 gallon tank.  I had to laugh when I retrieved my credit card and got the fuel receipt from the clerk in the Citgo station.  We had refueled at the "Save a Ton #2" in Chattanooga!  I thought,  "That little station saved us a lot more than a ton!"  By the way, I think I made the foreign clerk's (owner?) day when he handed me my card and receipt for $291.34.  What a big smile.  And no, he didn't furnish his house with my credit card.  Good people are everywhere!  I love it when trust is rewarded.
    During the winter we had the coach in the shop several times.  The Aladdin system monitors our fuel very accurately but this time it was off by more than normally expected.  We had run the generator quite a bit, that might account for some of the difference.  So maybe I should have bought a squirrel. 
  5. tbutler
    For sixteen years we have returned to the Rio Grande Valley, in the southern tip of Texas, each fall.  We enjoy the mild winters and the abundance of recreation, natural resources and wildlife in the area.  The December issue of Texas Parks and Wildlife Magazine is dedicated entirely to the Rio Grande Valley (RGV).  This publication from the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department is an excellent resource for those looking for a spot to visit in the winter, perhaps like us, you'll find it to be just what you are looking for in a winter residence.

    In commemoration of their 75th year in publication they decided to focus on a single area of Texas and the staff decided that focus had to be on the RGV.  They sent the entire staff to the RGV, housing them at Estero Llano Grande State Park south of Weslaco.  Every article in this issue of the magazine is about the RGV; its people, nature, history and recreation.  A one year subscription (10 issues) costs just $18.00.  There are regular offers in the magazine for $12 per year and 2 years for $20.  You should be able to purchase this issue at any Texas State Park.  You can read any or all articles in this issue at:  https://tpwmagazine.com/
  6. tbutler
    One night on my way home from calling Mexican bingo at Flip Flopz, the community building in our park, my cell phone fell out of my pocket. I got home, noticed it missing and retraced my route. Turning a corner I saw something in the middle of the street and it was my phone. Unfortunately, someone had run over it with a golf cart. It wasn't destroyed but was damaged. I tested it and it worked. Within a week it became apparent that it was not fully functioning. I was getting static during calls and missing a word here or there.
    So it was time to replace the phone. This was a dumb phone, just basic functions, call, talk, voice mail, With the standard numeric keypad you could text if you were really patient, I wasn't. I started searching for replacement phones and found few as simple as my old one. A trip to the phone store and I'm looking at one that has a slide cover that functions as a keyboard for texting for about $80. On the other hand there is an iPhone 4 that is offered for the grand sum of $0.99! Yes, the iPhone 4 was yesterdays nifty gadget but I like old stuff so I jumped in. Now I have a smart phone. For a whlie the phone was smarter than I was. I still don't use it like the kids do but it is growing on me.
    We left our winter retreat in extreme southern Texas in mid-March to head north to Missouri. We do a stint every spring taking care of grandchildren while their mother, our daughter, is working as a tax preparer. Who decided that tax season would be a good time for spring break anyway? As we traveled north I found the iPhone handy for checking on weather. I had installed the Weather Bug app soon after getting the phone. With the iPhone, I can open the Weather Bug and it knows where I am located and gives me the weather for my present location! Tap the radar icon and there is the radar for my location. You can do this with the computer but you have to tell the Weather Bug where you are located, name a city or put in a zip code. With the iPhone the phone tells the Weather Bug where it is and you get instant (under a minute) local weather information. Cool I said, I could learn to like this phone.
    Now it is late on the first day, we have been rolling nearly constantly and we are north of Dallas, heading into Oklahoma. It is getting dark and we should be finding a place to stop. The Next Exit does no good on US 75/69 so I tell Louise to pick up my phone and lets see if we can use it to find Wal-Mart! She knows zip about my iPhone so I'm driving and talking her through the App Store. She has searched and found something on Wal-Mart when we spot one! So the search stops there and so do we.
    Next morning we're heading for I-44 east of Tulsa when our son-in-law calls and says that snow is expected in Springfield, Missouri after noon. With constant driving we'll make Springfield by noon so it looks like a horse race between us and the weather. Check the iPhone to see where the storm is now. We're ahead of it but not by much. As we clear Springfield we see blowing snow but are quickly clear of that flurry. By nightfall we are at our daughters home near St. Louis. It's great to see the grandkids and we're on duty the next morning.
    During our stay we sit through a monster snow storm, about a foot of snow accumulates on our roof and all around us. It was Sunday so we just sat inside and enjoyed watching the storm. We went through 70% of our full propane tank in a 12 day trip. Boy were we glad to be headed back to Texas! We left Friday afternoon as soon as our son-in-law got home and made it to Joplin shortly after dark. By this time I had downloaded the iPhone app which allowed us to look for Wal-Mart stores near our current location. Louise Identified the exit and guided me into the Wal-Mart where we spent the night. The Weather Bug indicated a big storm complex coming in on us, likely in the early morning.
    I slept too long. By the time I got outside to check tires and the toad it was already raining lightly. I put the get-away in high gear and we were on the road in a steady rain. As we hit the Will Rogers Turnpike the rain started coming down in earnest. Pretty soon it became a regular frog strangler. Then the wind hit, fierce winds blowing across the road in a driving rain. That lasted for about five minutes before giving way to the standard thunderstorm. We departed the turnpike at Big Cabin and headed south on US 69, retracing our steps south. Louise was keeping me posted on the storm using the iPhone. We stopped at Wal-Mart to have breakfast and then continued on our way, trying to outrun the storm. We finally broke into clear weather about 50 miles north of the Texas border. My goal was to clear Dallas late on Saturday afternoon and be well south for the start of the final day of driving.
    We made that easily and then consulted the iPhone again. I had updated the Wal-Mart app to a full-featured app, Allstays Camp and RV. This is the greatest thing since the Swiss Army Knife, sliced bread and/or peanut butter! The Wal-Mart app is just the beginning. The full Camp and RV app has rest stops, it will display them on a map, not just any map, the map moves as you drive. Zoom in and you can watch yourself zipping down the road. Of course I never looked at it while driving! You can choose what you want to see on the map, rest stops, Wal-Mart, Cabellas, truck stops, gas stations, pick what you want. If you are headed south, indicate you want the southbound rest stops and that is what it shows. I knew there was a Cabellas south of Dallas so Louise looked for that, Louise took me to the correct exit and we were able to pull in to spend the night. Looking for a place to stop and eat? Name it and it will find the nearest one for you.
    I've got a GPS, new last year, can't find a fraction of what the iPhone does and the GPS is really old technology when you try to find something. It turns out it was my lucky day when someone ran over my old phone! I love my new iPhone. This is going to be great for traveling in the motor home.
  7. tbutler
    The bane of every motor home owner is maintenance. I'm a relatively handy guy and can handle lots of simple things but over time there are problems that occur that are better done by someone with more knowledge and experience than I can muster. As I've aged, the line that separates what I want to do and what I will pay someone else to do has moved. Part of that is wisdom, simply learning that my fix may not be the best way to repair something. Another thing that moves the line is my physical abilities. In my youth, strong and agile, I could lift things, bend around and under to get to places that my body now says are simply out of reach. Another thing moving the line is financial resources. When I was churchmouse poor I did all kinds of maintenance on my vehicles. Today I'd rather lift my wallet than lift a tire.
    Over the time we've owned our motor home, we've come to rely on a variety of shops for repair. One repair shop we have always used for the particularly tough problems is the factory service center. Originally, our manufacturer, Monaco operated a factory service center in Coburg, Oregon where their primary manufacturing facility was located. When you purchased a Monaco motor home you were invited to visit the factory service center to get the initial bugs out of the motor home. This served two purposes, it fixed problems for the customer and also gave the factory personnel feedback on things that were getting out the factory door in need of immediate repair. We returned within the first year of ownership and had a number of small items fixed. Later we would be invited to return and repairs were done at a much reduced rate or sometimes were complementary. We were also able to get service at Monaco "Come Home" rallies. The factory would shut down for the week and the company would bring the techs, a supply trailer and a fleet of rented golf carts to the rally. Each coach owner could put two things on a repair list and they would be done for the cost of parts. Such service went on for years but ended with the bankruptcy of Monaco in 2009.
    That is history. Monaco was taken out of bankruptcy by Navistar and operated under their corporate structure for several years. Today Monaco is part of the Allied Recreation Group (ARG). The ARG group includes Fleetwood, American Coach, Monaco and Holiday Rambler. The factory in Coburg is closed but the factory service center is still in operation in Coburg. There is also a factory service center in Indiana where the current factory is located in Decatur. Both facilities are doing warranty work and other repair work on the entire ARG line of vehicles. The factory service centers draw upon the technical people who were building the coaches. They know the coaches better than any general technician could.
    Our motor home is now 11 years old and we are once again at the factory service center in Oregon. We arrived on Monday evening and parked as directed in a vacant parking space. There is 30/50A power at the parking spot and also water. A dump station is available on site. Our motor home is picked up at 7:30 each morning and returned about 4:00 each afternoon. We arrived with a list of items ranging from a complete DC lighting circuit which was inoperative and a large power awning that wouldn't retract to an arm that broke off the drivers chair. There was a compartment door that wouldn't lock, another that wouldn't open. The auto-gen start function of the inverter wasn't working properly and the ABS light on the dash remained lit all the time indicating that the ABS function wasn't operating properly. I've been saving up, there were 17 items on the list.
    One by one our tech, Mike, has been working through the list and fixing or repairing each of our problems. It is now Friday morning and the last items on the list are being addressed. I've been called to the coach several times to consult on work in progress. I've seen more wires dangling and cabinets disassembled than I would ever have done. The DC circuit was a short which required replacing a wire to resolve the problem. Finding it was the reason for disassembling all the cabinets and fixtures. Mike consulted with the electronics guru to get the auto-gen start working again. He turned the broken chair arm over to the welding shop after disassembling the arm mounting hardware. We're going to drive away with everything working! I consider that a really successful repair trip. We've spent most of the week here but when everything is done we've reached our goal.
    There have been a dozen coaches worked on during this period of time and another half dozen from dealers that are being worked on as time permits. Some jobs are small, others really big. One couple had their full wall slide out removed so repairs could be done to the system that moves it in and out. We have visited with many of the people who are having repairs made and shared many stories of our travels. By Friday morning, most people have departed, we are among the few remaining. Next week a new group of coaches will arrive and a new set of problems will be solved.
    If you own a coach in the Allied Recreation Group you should take advantage of this excellent resource for keeping your coach in top operating condition. You can make an appointment at either facility by calling the following numbers. For Monaco and Holiday Rambler, contact 877-466-6226, American Coach contact 800-435-7345, Fleetwood contact 800-322-8216. Appointments normally are made months in advance but in emergencies they may be able to address specific problems on shorter notice. We made our reservation in July for this appointment in September.
  8. tbutler
    As of our last post we had just entered Colorado as the heavy rain and flooding occurred. We stayed for a week and got a first hand look at some of the damage. What we saw in the Denver/Arvada area was minor compared to the real damage which occurred in the mountains and out on the plains as the flood waters continued to disperse. There are towns in the mountains which have no road access to the outside world and likely won't have until sometime next spring or summer. Countless roads washed out and many bridges were destroyed. At the time we left the death toll was still uncertain. Many people lost their lives and huge numbers of people lost their homes.
    Leaving Denver we headed north to I-80 at Cheyenne. The trip was delayed as we ran into stop and go traffic for miles as we approached the bridge over the Big Thompson River. Traffic was slowed, a giant gaper block, everyone wanted to see the rushing waters of the Big Thompson. Once clear of this traffic we were on I-80 westbound in no time at all. We made a stop in Laramie for diesel and then drove on stopping at a rest area near Fort Fred Steele. It was late enough in the day that we decided to stop for the night here.
    In the morning I learned that circumstances would change our planned trip to Olympia, Washington to mid October so we now were headed for a family commitment in California in about a week and a half. That gave us a little time to enjoy exploring some new territory. We talked it over and decided to head into west-central Wyoming and take a look at the area around Lander. We drove a short distance into Rawlings, picked up propane to make sure we would have enough for cold nights at altitude. From there, the road northwest to Lander passes through some very scenic lands in the Great Divide Basin. The Great Divide separates water going to the Atlantic from water going to the Pacific Ocean. Here in central Wyoming, the Great Divide divides into two, then rejoins south of I-80 into a single divide again. Between the two routes of the divide is an area where waters flow into a basin with no exit. It would be similar to the Great Salt Lake basin except that there is little rainfall here and no large lake exists here.
    We decided to stay at Twin Pines Campground south of Lander. This proved to be a good choice and then a bad choice. We were 7 miles from Lander and spent several days in town and exploring Sinks Canyon State Park nearby. In Sinks Canyon State Park, the Middle Popo Agie River disappears underground as it flows into a cave. At high water, some water flows overland but most of the year the river goes underground. Several thousand feet down the canyon, water from the river bubbles back to the surface and then continues to flow on the surface from there on. This is not a terribly uncommon occurrence, it happens in areas with Karst topography, typified by caves and sinkholes. We hiked the north canyon wall to a viewpoint that gave us an overview of the valley. The second day in the canyon we drove up and over the north canyon wall and across the mountains back to our campsite. The scenery was spectacular as the road took us past a number of mountain lakes and over several mountain ridges.
    Once again, we stumbled on a unique event without any prior knowledge or planning. We drove into Lander on Friday morning and saw a banner stretched across the main street, "Welcome to the One Shot Antelope Hunt." The hunt would be Saturday morning, the opening of antelope hunting season. This event started in the late 1930's as a challenge between Wyoming and Colorado. Each state would field a team of three hunters. Each hunter would get one round of ammunition for their antelope hunt. Hunting parties would be made of one hunter from each team accompanied by a guide. The team that bagged the most antelope or in the case of a tie did it in the least amount of time would be declared the winner. Over time, the number of teams increased. This year there would be eight teams. Participants are by invitation only. There is a museum in town, past shooters include astronauts, a who's who of actors, particularly the cowboy genre of actors, politicians (former VP Cheney was in this year's group of participants), and other famous people. We saw several teams touring Sinks Canyon State Park after they sighted in their guns that morning in a remote area of the park. There weren't a lot of events open to the public but we enjoyed learning about this unique event.
    We enjoyed a look at South Pass City on Sunday afternoon. This is a gold rush town that like many turned into ghost town once the gold mine became non-productive. The mine enjoyed several periods of development, starting in 1868 and finally ending in 1954 with the closing of the Carissa Mine. South Pass City was turned over to the State of Wyoming and has been preserved in its early 1900's condition. Returning to our park I prepared the car for our anticipated morning departure.
    Monday morning I was up picking up e-mail, taking care of computer tasks as the coming days may not have internet coverage. I looked up from the computer and out our front window I saw smoke. This was not light gray smoke, it was not a distant cloud of smoke, this was a boiling black cloud of smoke and it was right in front of our motor home! I jumped up and looked out the drivers side window to see a neighboring motor home on fire. The fire was coming from the front engine compartment of a Georgie Boy that was in site 20. We were in site 18 and site 19 between us was empty. I picked up my phone and called 911. The call took 4 minutes. During that time the couple in the coach had bailed out the emergency exit window of the motor home. Both were elderly with obvious limitations in their physical abilities but they did make it out safely. Their pets, a cat and a dog, unfortunately did not escape. The Lander fire department is at least seven miles away and it is a volunteer fire department. It was 22 minutes from the time I made the phone call until I started taking pictures of the fire department at work. Those were the longest 22 minutes I have ever known.
    After my phone call, Louise and I set about getting our slides in and preparing to move from our site. As I went out to pull the electric, water and sewer connections the heat from the fire was so intense that I decided we should abandon our attempt to move for our own safety. I could have driven off with utilities attached and perhaps I should have but we didn't. We got out of our own coach, Considering the propane tank and gas tank on the coach, I didn't want to delay getting away from the area. I have since imagined a number of scenarios which would have allowed us to get out of the way but of course none of that saved us at the time. Louise and I talked this over several days later, could of, should have, would have, is a game that can be played forever and it still haunts me but at least I'm sleeping a little better now.
    I assisted in getting the woman into a fifth wheel on the far end of the park as she was feeling faint and near collapsing. We watched the fire from a distance and worried about our own coach. When the fire department started putting water on the flames their entire coach was involved in flames. The coach was completely destroyed down to the frame. Their Jeep which was parked in front of the coach had nothing left but the metal components. All this took just 22 minutes from the time I noticed the fire. It took another 20 minutes for the fire department to put out the last of the flames, and a few minutes more to pack up and leave. From beginning to end it was less than an hour. It was a truly frightening event for all involved.
    Our coach sustained some secondary damage. Despite the fact that we got our slide-outs in as soon as we could, there were still numerous burn holes in the canvas covers. Embers from the fire rained down on the roof leaving little burn marks like a cigarette left on the sink in a motel room on the roof of the coach. Of greatest concern is heat damage to the entire port side wall of the coach. The fiberglass wall is warped just enough to make every vertical rib in the coach wall visible. We've had all this documented by an adjuster from our insurance company, now the repair work begins.
    So we've now seen flood and fire, what is next? I don't know but I would advise you to leave if you see us coming into a park near you! In the Peanuts comic strip there was a character named Pigpen. Pigpen was always unwashed, grungy looking, and everywhere he went he had this black cloud of dust and dirt following. That is how I'm feeling right now.
  9. tbutler
    We spent most of this week with our daughter and her family at their vacation home in Oregon. During our stay there were several days of rain and clouds. Nights were cool enough that we had the furnace running. Oregon is beautiful. Their home is on the Umpqua river about 30 miles inland where they can actually fish from their back yard for salmon. In fact, the oldest girl, age 8, landed a 20 pound Chinook Salmon on Wednesday. Her father assisted by powering the rowboat and helping her with the final capture of the beast. Dad could be described as a fish whisperer. He has taken us fishing and can almost always pinpoint where the fish will be. Anyway, we love Oregon but the weather sometimes can be a bit of a wet blanket.
    We were on schedule, departing Oregon this morning heading for our winter haven on the South Texas border. I try to get everything done the day before we leave but there are utilities to disconnect in the morning and the door mat to put away. Add to that sweeping the roof, we were parked under pine trees and the deciduous trees are losing their leaves so the roof was a real mess. I could let it blow off but the toad would never forgive me. Everything was wet and putting away wet materials means putting away lots of dirt. I hate doing that because it means I'll have to clean it all up later. This time it is the last trip of the year and the coach will get a good cleaning upon our return home. So I guess this will just make the dirt a little easier to see.
    After hooking up the car we said our final good-bye's and were down the lane to the highway. From Elkton, Oregon the trip to I-5 is a tedious drive up and down hill and around curve after curve. Despite the fact that we're starting a 2400 mile trip, I'm taking my time on this road. The light rain continues off and on all the way to I-5. Then we're on the interstate. Oregon has a speed limit for trucks, 55 MPH, and I usually drive the truck speed limit even if it isn't specified for RV's as well. This time I'm going with the car speed limit. I'm driving in the 62 to 65 MPH range so only a few trucks are passing me now.
    At Exit 99 on I-5 in Oregon is the Seven Feathers Casino. They have diesel fuel at discount prices, no difference between commercial diesel and private coaches which is not the normal case for fuel in Oregon. You can also fuel your own coach which is a variance from the Oregon requirement of full service fueling. While discounted for the normal diesel prices in Oregon, we're headed to Nevada and the fuel prices there are better so I'm taking on just enough to get me to the Reno/Fernley area on I-80 where I'll take on more fuel. I always do a survey of fuel prices along our route to determine where to purchase fuel. I use Flying J's posted fuel prices because the give me a good overview of a state or several states. There are times when I fuel at Flying J but I also use Gas Buddy to locate low cost diesel suppliers in an area. As a general rule, when traveling west I'll fill up at each stop, usually just before leaving each state. Fuel in Wyoming is cheaper than in Utah. Utah has cheaper fuel than Nevada, Nevada is cheaper than California. If I do things right I won't buy any diesel in California! When traveling east my general practice is to purchase just enough fuel in each state to get me to the next.
    The GPS routing for the trip would take us through the central valley of California but that is a route that we're avoiding for several reasons. First is the terrible crush of traffic. It doesn't matter if it is I-5 or US 99, the roads are always packed with trucks and traffic in and around towns and cities it is even worse. We have just come from the Tulelake area and decided to travel through that area to US 395 south to Reno, Nevada and then pick up US 95, a favorite route, south through Nevada. These roads are all in good condition and have little traffic along most of the route. Once we get to Tulelake we're past the mountain driving. The highways weave through the high country between mountains. There are some elevation changes but nothing like driving I-5 in northern California.
    Today the drive was easy, traffic even on I-5 to Medford, OR there were few trucks. Once on the road to Klamath Falls we had very little traffic at all. Even on the two lane road there were seldom any cars following us. We found a nice roadside pull off for a lunch stop and stopped several times for rest stops in towns along the way. We considered stopping somewhere in Susanville but it really wasn't on the route so we bypassed Susanville, stopping for the night at the Honey Lake Rest Area on US 395. There are lots of empty truck spaces here and we are alone at one end of the parking lot. Once we shut down the generator we should have a nice quiet night of sleep. Tomorrow we'll be in Nevada and on roads which are more familiar to us. Familiar isn't always a goal but when we're trying to get somewhere in the shortest amount of time, familiar works well. We'll do more sightseeing next year.
  10. tbutler
    The Junior Play when I was in high school was Harvey.  My best friend played the lead role, Elwood P. Dowd.  Elwood, a grown man, had an imaginary friend, Harvey.  Harvey was a rabbit, a six foot tall rabbit, according to Elwood.  I had a minor part, acting was never my thing.  Anyway, these days there is another Harvey and it isn't a rabbit.  Harvey is dumping a huge quantity of rain on the upper Gulf Coast of Texas and now Louisiana.  A stalled storm can unload a huge amount of water on any given spot.  Think of it as a conveyor belt, picking up water from the warm water in the Gulf of Mexico and carrying it to the coast of Texas where it deposits it, continuously, in huge quantities. 
    Several years ago we had a single thunderstorm that sat right on top of our RV Park in Texas, Sandpipers Resort.  I can say that the thunderstorm sat there for one hour because I looked at the radar record as and after the storm was over.  In one hour this thunderstorm dropped 5+ inches of rain on our park.  The low spot in the park became a lake, we dubbed it Lake Sandpiper.  Our mobile home was on the northern edge of Lake Sandpiper.  Fortunately for us, 5 inches wasn't enough to do any damage but a few other homes sustained some minor damage.  Lake Sandpiper, having no drainage outlet other than a 2" pump, persisted for a week.  That was but a single thunderstorm. 
    I used to live in a rural area in Missouri.  We had a thunderstorm that dropped 11 inches of rain in one hour.  It was an amazing to watch the water come down in such a torrent.  Immediately, the local river became a rolling current, filling it's banks and then spilling over into adjacent agricultural fields.  Tiny creeks became impassible, low areas flooded and became stagnant for weeks.  Crops died from excess water, people were delayed on their way home but no one died and the area recovered almost without any concern or help being necessary.
    Harvey is a different matter.  Harvey is a succession of such storms.  And the storms aren't falling on an agricultural area, not even a hilly area, Houston and many of the other towns along the Gulf Coast are on the coastal plain, a wide flat area along the coast of Texas that extends from Louisiana all the way to Mexico.  Drainage is slow in flat areas particularly when they are only a few feet above sea level.  Add to that the fact that much of the Houston area is covered with pavement which doesn't absorb water but sheds it into nearby ditches.  Pavement isn't the only impermeable area, homes themselves have roofs which are by design impermeable.  Who would buy a leaky roof?  So lawns and parks are the primary areas that absorb water when it rains.  Urban areas are particularly prone to flooding.  I can recall a visit to Houston many years ago, on our way from Fort Sam Houston in San Antonio to Fort Bragg, NC.  We were visiting some relatives that lived there.  During our visit a short thunderstorm passed over the area.  Upon leaving, we saw significant street flooding.  Nothing that prevented our travel but we drove through six inches of water in places. 
    So Houston and it's surroundings are prone to flooding and Harvey is the perfect storm for the area.  I'm not ignoring other towns, many towns further south along the shore took the brunt of the winds of Harvey.  There have been many clips on the news showing the destroyed buildings.  Some towns are nearly completely leveled.  Fortunately the death toll in those towns is amazing low.  Within Houston, the disaster is multiplied by millions of lives.  A city has problems that no other area has.  The density of population multiplies the inconvenience, loss of life, financial loss by millions.  Ability to move the population, evacuate the area, is highly limited by the sheer numbers that are involved.  The after-effects of this storm are going to be sobering.  Katrina and now Harvey have inflicted huge losses and pain on populations in large cities.
    Anyone involved in disaster planning for large population areas should be alarmed and should be working to re-evaluate their disaster plans.  Metropolitan planning needs to account for population density and evacuation routes and plans need to be studied and improved.  We can do better if we will learn from the past and present. 
    Our home in Edinburg, Texas was spared.  Harvey hit land far enough north that people staying in our park sent messages via Facebook and other communication letting us know through pictures of sunrises and sunsets and words advising us of no wind, no rain, that all was well in Sandpipers.  In fact, announcements about RV Parks recently have focused on a very few that are taking storm refugees.  I can't imagine a park that wouldn't take refugees from Harvey if space were available.  In the RGV there are about 80 parks that will accommodate thousands of RV's during the winter.  Those parks are largely empty right now and could provide a place for RV refugees to stay.  If you are looking for a place to go with your RV to get out of the way of the clean-up, call any of the parks in the RGV.  With luck you may even get a site that might last through the winter.  There is no doubt that complete recovery will take years. 
    Tonight I sit in a safe and secure place but I can imagine the intense concern and dread of those in the Houston area.  It's called empathy, a normal human emotion.  Don't fight it, consider your life and what you would feel if you lived in the Houston or central coastal area of Texas or Louisiana tonight.  Our thoughts are with those in the grip of the storm tonight and into the future. 
    "Lake Sandpiper" April 10, 2015
  11. tbutler
    I can see clearly now, the rain is gone,
    I can see all obstacles in my way
    Gone are the dark clouds that had me blind
    It’s gonna be a bright, bright
    Sun-Shiny day.
    Those are some of the lyrics from I Can See Clearly Now, by Johnny Nash. It is one of my all time favorite songs and I've been whistling it a lot lately. What follows is a detailed description of my encounter with a common eye condition, cataracts. If you have cataracts and have had them surgically removed, you know the story. If you have them and haven't had them removed, you should read the detail. In many cases, the surgery can give you good vision again.
    But first, I've got to share with you some conditions that may alert you to your failing vision because this comes on slowly and as with all small slow changes, you hardly notice. My apologies to Jeff Foxworthy for what follows.
    If you think newspaper ink has become almost the same color as the page, you might have cataracts.
    If your birdie putt disappears but didn't go into the cup, you might have cataracts.
    If the screen on your GPS on the dashboard is getting fainter so that you can hardly see the map, you might have cataracts.
    If you have noticed that there are more hazy days lately, you might have cataracts.
    If road signs have become impossible to read from a distance, you might have cataracts.
    If the left turn arrow of the traffic signal is too faint to be seen, you might have cataracts.
    If your nose is touching the computer screen, you might have cataracts.
    If you've quit reading books and magazines, you might have cataracts.
    If you haven't seen a sky filled with stars lately, you might have cataracts.
    If you are seeing fewer birds, you might have cataracts.
    In 2002 my optometrist advised me that I had a small cataract in my left eye. There was an area of cloudiness in the lens of the eye. It didn't seem to be causing me any vision problems so he said we would monitor it to see if and how it progressed. At each biennial exam he would comment on its progress or lack of progress. It didn't seem to be much of a problem. This past year I have noticed more and more difficulty seeing (see the list above), but the problem seemed to be my right eye, not my left. In March I was back in Missouri and stopped in to see my optometrist. He found a severe cataract in my right eye. He said the left eye had progressed some but was still borderline. I wasn't staying in town long so I would have to find an ophthalmologist when I got back to Texas. I started with the internet, learning about cataracts and cataract surgery. I found out that cataract surgery is the most common surgery in the US. I also learned that it is 98% successful and that the most common complications are relatively minor and affect people who have other serious health problems. The web site was an excellent source of independent information. All the types of replacement lenses which are available are described with their benefits and limits or problems described. There was one very interesting entry, a description of his own cataract surgery by an ophthalmologist. There are numerous articles which address many aspects of eye health, cataracts are just one topic on that site. The site is operated by Access Media Group, a healthcare publishing company specializing in eye care. The company's primary business, All About Vision®, is a website providing information to consumers about all aspects of eye health and vision correction. A friend, a retired optometrist suggested one way to find a good local ophthalmologist would be to consult professional organization web sites so I went to the American Academy of Ophthalmology (AAO). Entering my zip code gave me a list of a half dozen ophthalmologist within 30 miles of our home. I also found a listing of local surgeons on another web site, Eye Surgery Education. Finally, I asked my physician for a recommendation. I now had three sources and a number of possible surgeons.
    My physicians office made an appointment with their recommended physician. When I arrived for the appointment I learned that the doctor wasn't in, hadn't been in all week. I was welcome to see another doctor in the group. I wasn't happy with that arrangement, after all they had called to confirm the appointment only a few days before. I left discouraged, it would be another week or two before I could get an appointment with another doctor. The second doctor I chose had an office which was definitely high end. He was a very professional doctor but had one particular premium lens that he liked to install and talked down all others when I asked about them. Then we were sent to a scheduling consultant who reminded Louise and I of the worst used car salesman we could ever imagine. He exaggerated, misrepresented, and exhibited an alarming lack of knowledge about lenses. He informed us of the doctors fees which were well above the charges that web sites indicated for premium lenses. It took me about ten minutes of this to walk out on this sales pitch. I still can't imagine that doctor sanctioning his presentation. It would be another two weeks waiting for the next appointment. I went back to my list and picked a doctor from the AAO list. I read about this doctors background, education and years of experience. Everything looked promising but I was now leery of the whole genre of ophthalmologists. When I arrived at this office I was first tested by an assistant who did an excellent job of explaining the testing and measurements she was taking. Then I went to see the doctor and she completed her exam and we talked lenses. I told her what my concerns were and what I expected from a lens. I wasn't after the most expensive, nor the most convenient. Some lenses can allow you to do away with glasses entirely. Some have different focusing zones, others are flexible like the body's natural lens and can be flexed to focus on different distances. The lens I chose is a fixed lens which will give excellent distant vision but will require reading glasses for close vision. Dr. Alexander agreed with me that given my concerns that was a good choice. We set up surgery dates for both the right and left eye, one week apart. By the way, both of the doctors I saw agreed that I needed cataract surgery on both eyes. The left eye didn't have the spot that was in the center of the right lens but it was generally cloudy throughout.
    We planned to do the surgery on my worst (right) eye first. Surgery was done in a surgery center. Prep included about 4 dozen eye drops, some to sterilize the eye, some to numb the eye and finally the ones to dilate the iris. I had an IV with a sedative to relax me. Then I was wheeled away to the operating room. Dr. Alexander came in and began to work. She works through a microscope for the entire process. I am pretty much immobilized by a protective cover on my eye which is fastened to the bed. I can see light but can't feel a thing, no pain, no pressure. The light keeps moving and Dr. Alexander requests one thing or another from her assistants. I have read about the surgery and seen movies simulating parts of the surgery so this all sounds familiar. Soon she announces that she is finished with the surgery and everything is fine. I am wheeled out to recovery where I get some juice to drink, the IV and heart monitor are disconnected, I am put in a wheel chair and am on my way home. I have a clear cover on my eye, I can see but I'm looking through plastic. It has holes around the edges for ventilation and the central area is transparent. I can see, everything is blurry and way too bright, sunglasses help. At home I am able to eat for the first time since midnight. Slowly through the day my vision is improving. I notice that the houses are really white, the grass is green and cars are really colorful. I'm like a railroad crossing signal, right eye, left eye, right eye, left eye. Wow, my left eye is really bad! It is just the first day and I'm looking through a plastic cover and I'm seeing better with my right eye than with my left. Following surgery I have to continue eye drops and sleep with the patch on for a week. There is no pain following surgery, no discomfort, only the steady improvement in my vision.
    The next day I have an appointment with Dr. Alexander. The plastic cover is removed from my eye and I can really see how clear my vision is now with the new lens in place. I'm on restricted duty, no lifting or bending so I catch up on some of the light work around the house and on the computer. Later in the week I do some painting that we'd put off for some time. By the weekend I'm able to mow the lawn. The following Monday, May 20, I'm back to the surgery center for the left eye. The story is much the same, I remember more of the operation this time but the results are the same. I'm writing this just hours after the plastic cover has been removed from my left eye. I have a pair of reading glasses purchased off the rack at Walgreens that function as my reading glasses for now. I can see clearly now. We stopped at the grocery store on the way home this afternoon and the experience of walking through the produce section was amazing, the colors are now so bright, vivid compared to what I was seeing only two weeks ago. It is as if I am seeing the grocery store for the first time. I am amazed how far down the highway I can see, even reading signs from distances I could only imagine a few weeks ago. I can see all obstacles in my way. The old hazy gray world I was living in is now gone. Gone are the dark clouds that had me blind.
    It’s gonna be a bright, bright Sun-Shiny day. Have you had your eyes checked lately?
  12. tbutler
    It has been almost a month since we finished our trip to Newfoundland and Labrador. I needed the time between the trip and this post to put it all in perspective. We had a wonderful interesting and sometimes challenging trip through Newfoundland. On the 22nd of August we took the motorhome on the ferry from St. Barbe, Newfoundland to Blanc Sablon in Quebec. While waiting to board the ferry we were treated to a very interesting event. A moose swam across the bay from the far shore to St. Barbe. After shaking off some water the last we saw of the moose she was strolling into St. Barbe. It was quite a long swim but there wasn't a hint of panic or tiring, she just kept stroking away until she reached the shore.
    The trip across the Strait of Belle Isle was interesting. The ferry was tacking against the current all the way across and it was noticeable in watching from the deck as we approached the landing at Blanc Sablon. We were to learn later that many shipwrecks occurred in the area due to the strong current. I enjoyed watching sea birds and the villages on the Labrador coast.
    Once we reached Blanc Sablon, QC, we drove north about six miles to L'Anse au Claire, NL. We stayed at an RV park associated with the Northern Lights Inn in L'Anse au Claire. The park was very humble, utilities were at the rear of the coach, the surface was gravel and our 40 footer was by far the largest vehicle in the park. We were happy to have full hookups and internet service.
    We traveled north to the Point Amour Lighthouse one day and enjoyed climbing the Lighthouse to the top for a great view of the coast. Stories of lighthouse keepers are most interesting and this one was no exception. The lighthouse owner bought a Ford Model T which was the first vehicle in Labrador. There are pictures of the lighthouse keeper and his family and other items from the late 1800's. The lighthouse itself has walls constructed of local stone and has walls that are six feet thick.
    The next day we drove north to the Red Bay National Historic Site. The drive was quite instructive. We had been socked in fog all night long. Driving north we drove out of the fog about 5 miles north into bright sunlight. The road meanders north from one bay to the next. Between bays the road goes up and over high hills. Each bay hosts another small village.
    Red Bay is a small town and the site of 16th century Basque whaling camps. Recent excavations on land and underwater resulted in discovery of a large ship for transporting whale oil back to Europe. There was also a small whaling boat known as a chalupa recovered. That chalupa is on display in the welcome center. Imagine a chalupa that has been on the bottom of the bay for close to 500 years. Artifacts from the camps and the large ship are on display in a visitors center. The archaeological work that was done is amazing. We took a boat across to an island that was the site of several whaling camps. Walking a trail we saw the remains of various buildings or shelters where whale blubber was rendered and whale oil was put into barrels for shipment.
    Before leaving Red Bay we drove north just a few miles north to scout out the next part of our trip. From Red Bay north toward Goose Bay there is a single road, the Coastal Road. The road is entirely gravel until you reach the area of Red Bay. The final 20 miles into Red Bay are paved.
    If all you want to do is see a little of Labrador I would recommend that you take the toad to Sablon Blanc and stay at the Northern Lights Inn. The Inn looks quite nice and has a restaurant. Another possibility would be to take a tour which would include bus transportation to the tourist sites mentioned above as well as a stay at the Northern Lights Inn. We wanted to do more than this so we brought the motor home over on the ferry. After three days in L'Anse au Claire we set out to see the rest of Labrador. I'll describe that journey in my next posting.
  13. tbutler
    When last you heard from us we were winding up a huge tour of the National Parks in the Four Corners area.  We arrived in Las Vegas for an extended stay.  Actually, it was planned as a departure point.  We stayed at a park in Henderson, a southeastern suburb of Las Vegas.  The rates were good and the security was by all accounts very good so we felt comfortable leaving our coach there while flying to St. Louis to be with family for the big 50 birthday party.  Las Vegas RV Resort turned out to be an excellent choice.  In early September, the park is mostly empty but the staff is on duty taking care of the park.  During the winter this must be quite a busy park but for now, it provided easy access to the Las Vegas area and the good security we wanted.  There is a gate house with someone on duty 24/7. 
    We spent several days out on the town.  I had a Euro recliner that was part of the original coach equipment.  It was showing its age and I had been considering replacing it.  I figured a larger city like Las Vegas would provide a good selection of furniture stores.  A little internet browsing and we picked several stores to visit.  The first had recliners, the big puffy kind, not exactly what I needed.  The second store had one that looked good and it was on sale but, they didn't have it in stock.  It would be several weeks, we weren't staying that long.  On the way to the car, we walked past a tent sale for the same store.  We decided to take a look and found a nice chair and ottoman combo that fit our needs.  These were clearance items so I figured what we were looking at was the item on sale.  It looked to be in good condition so we caught a salesperson between corralling children playing on the furniture and put in our request.  Over to the register, provide all the information and we get directions for picking up our, new in the carton, chair.  It was half the price of the one we had looked at in the main store and was quite similar.  I'm in it now!  I put the old chair out on the street in the RV park with a  note attached, "Free to a good home."  The next morning it was gone! 
    We did the obligatory run through some of the big casinos on The Strip.  It really isn't as exciting as it was when I was young.  They even charge for parking these days.  We drove out to Hoover Dam one day.  We've done the dam tour before and I'd recommend it to everyone who is interested in taking a look at this amazing piece of engineering and construction.  This time we took the walk across the Mike O'Callaghan - Pat Tillman Memorial Bridge.  This is the amazing engineering project that allows US Hwy 93 to bypass the dam.  The views of the dam and the canyon from the walkway are spectacular and unlike a helicopter ride, you can linger and take all the pictures you want.  There is a great array of informational panels and displays about the project. 
    We flew Southwest Airlines from Las Vegas to St. Louis on Thursday, September 8.  Friday we attended a practice marching band performance at our oldest grandson's school.  He has found his calling in marching band and we enjoy the seeing the performances.  Saturday we pitched in and helped get everything cleaned up and ready for the big birthday party.  We had several people in the family turning 50, my youngest sister and our oldest son-in-law were both celebrating.  I myself had just turned 70 but nothing was said about me being one of the celebrants.  About an hour before the party my brother and his wife who are living in Kentucky arrived.  There was a decorated table with my name on it and a sign that said, "70 Rocks!"  My grandchildren had picked out some special rocks to anchor the sign, rocks that we had brought them from our travels. 
    Our oldest daughter and her husband hosted the event using their garage, driveway and patio to entertain the crowd.  We had great weather, a musician had been hired for the night, there were plenty of snacks, beverages, and several campfires with chairs set up around.  We had a very enjoyable evening visiting with family and friends.  Sunday we slept in then went to an RV Show with the other two birthday celebrants who are both into RV's now.  My oldest daughter and her husband have a nice travel trailer that they have been using for some nice family trips.  My younger sister and her husband have a Class B that he used for commuting to work across the state for years.  The RV Show had a good display of trailers and motor homes all on a shopping center parking lot.  In previous years the venue was indoors but for various reasons they moved outdoors, more appropriate I thought.  It is fun to look at the state of the industry even if we weren't shopping. 
    Monday morning we were on our way back to Las Vegas.  Tuesday we had an appointment at Freightliner in North Las Vegas, to look at a few chassis problems.  They were short handed and didn't think they could do more than look at any problems.  So we left there disappointed.  We had a Wednesday appointment at Cummins in  North Las Vegas and went there to see if we could get in early for engine maintenance.  They were booked so we ended up at Walmart for the night and got in early the next day. 
    Wednesday we departed North Las Vegas about 1:00 p.m., temperatures still near 100, and headed into cooler weather in northern Nevada.  US Hwy 95 along the western border of Nevada is a common route when we leave Northern California on our way south to Texas.  This was the first time we'd traveled that route headed north.  It does make the scenery a little different.  We covered a little over 300 miles that afternoon and settled in for the night in a "dispersed camping" area alongside Walker Lake.  Temperatures were in the 60's overnight and by morning, the coach was nice and cool.  A little more than 200 miles through the Sierra Nevada on California Hwy 88 to Jackson and on to Valley Springs to our youngest daughter's home.
    We've been here two weeks now, temperatures in the low to mid 90's are a little warmer than desired but a cool front has come through and they have dropped into the 70's into the afternoon and 50's at night.  That's more comfortable.  It never (hardly ever) rains when we are here in the fall and this fall is no exception.  We stock our wine rack while here in California.  We have a favorite winery nearby and we will take several cases of their wine with us as we return to Texas.  There is also a liquor chain here, BEVMO (Beverages and More).  They have periodic 5 cent wine sales.  Buy one bottle at regular price and the second bottle is 5 cents.  We enjoy a variety of wines and this gives us a chance to spend a little more than normal on a bottle of wine and still keep it on budget.  So we'll look a little like bootleggers as we head for Texas.  It's all legal!  The motor home makes a great truck.
    Our two youngest granddaughters live in Valley Springs and their schools year-round schedule has them on vacation for the next two weeks.  That is our mission, to keep the girls busy while they are on vacation.  Their mother will be on vacation next week and we'll all head north to their "OHO," their Oregon House.  Several years ago they purchased a house on the banks of the Umqua River in western Oregon.  The whole family loves to fish and the river is in their back yard.  The house is on a good sized hilll, well above river level so anything resembling normal flooding will be no problem for them.  We'll spend a week there then depart for Texas as the family returns to California and back to work and school. 
  14. tbutler
    The Quinault Valley of the Olympic Peninsula was our last stop visiting the peninsula. Arriving at the Rain Forest Village Resort RV Park, we located an open site. We arrived on the Thursday before Labor Day weekend so we were glad to get a site at this first come, first served RV Park. They do not take reservations. The park is more like a state park campground than the usual commercial RV Park. Upon arrival we were given several brochures detailing local attractions, most of these were related to the trails and trees in the area. On the south side of Lake Quinault where we were there is a web of trails through the forest. Most of the trails are in the Olympic National Forest. Trails are well maintained and marked. Some of the trails have interpretive signs to explain what you are seeing. We hiked many of the shorter trails near the resort during this visit.
    One of the surprises for us was the amazing abundance of champion trees in this valley. Champion trees are trees which have been identified by the Forestry Association as the largest tree of a species. For each species a single tree somewhere is designated as the champion tree. In our campground the champion Sitka Spruce was located just east of our campsite. Of all the Sitka spruce trees in the world, this one has been identified as the largest. The criteria involves a formula, Trunk Circumference (inches) + Height (feet) + ¼ Average Crown Spread (feet) = Total Points, which is used to assess the relative status of a tree. The champion Sitka spruce tree is 55.7 feet in circumference and 191 feet tall and is estimated to be over 1000 years old.
    Across Lake Quinault on the northern side of the lake stands the champion western red cedar. This tree is a grizzled old tree. It stands 174 feet tall and is 63.5 feet in circumference with a diameter of 19.5 feet. The center of the tree has decayed away leaving it open like a chimney. The top of the tree has been broken off, perhaps more than one time. You can stand in the center of the tree and look up through the trunk to see the sky. Given all this, the tree still has numerous live branches. Getting to this tree is a short 1/2 mile trail up steps and across boardwalks. Standing at the base of this majestic old tree trying to imagine what it has been through and how it survived is a experience in humility. This tree is the largest tree in the state of Washington and other than the redwoods and Sequoias in California this tree is the largest tree in the world.
    It is really amazing to find two champion trees of such large size located together. The rest of the story is that there are four more champion trees in the Quinault Valley. Not far from these two giants stands the largest Douglas fir tree in the world. It is located in Quinault Research Natural area and is not accessible to the public. This tree stands 302 feet tall, has a circumference of 40 feet 10 inches and is 13 feet in diameter.
    Further up the valley stands the largest yellow cedar tree in the United States. Seven miles up the skyline trail you will find this tree standing 129 feet tall, 37 feet 7 inches in circumference and 11.96 feet in diameter.
    The largest western hemlock in the United States is 14 miles up the Enchanted Valley trail. Its height is 172 feet, circumference is 27 feet 11 inches and its diameter is 8.89 feet.
    Finally, the champion mountain hemlock is 13 miles up the Enchanted Valley trail. At 152 feet tall and over 6 feet in diameter it is the largest mountain hemlock in the world.
    We didn't visit the last four trees but were able to see two very spectacular trees with just a short walk. The trails here are interesting and scenic. If you would like to know more about champion trees check out this web site. There are champion trees all over the US and world. You might be surprised to learn there is one near you. I know that in the Rio Grande Valley of Texas where we winter there are several champion trees. I drive past one of them on my way to the bowling alley where we bowl each Friday during the winter.
  15. tbutler
    In a previous entry I described the total eclipse of the sun which is happening next month, August 21, 2017.  Total solar eclipses are rare.  How rare?  It has been 26 years (July 11, 1991) and that was only seen in only one state, Hawaii.  The next solar eclipse for the US will be April 8 2024.  This one enters from Mexico into Texas and slices northeastward through New England exiting the US in Maine, continuing on through New Brunswick, and Newfoundland.  There have been many partial eclipses, but the difference between a partial eclipse and a total eclipse of the Sun is night and day if you will pardon the obvious.  The eclipse next month can be seen from the entire US as a partial eclipse but only those who are in a ribbon that is 71 miles wide at it's widest, will be able to see the total eclipse.  That ribbon of totality enters the US near Portland, Oregon and exits on the east coast of South Carolina.  If you are exactly in the center of the ribbon of totality, you will get about 2 minutes of darkness before the Sun reappears.  Standing near the edge of the ribbon the length of the eclipse could be just a matter of a few seconds before the Sun reappears.  It is going to take some planning to see this eclipse.  Millions of Americans will flock to that ribbon.  They will be joined by many thousands of visitors from all over the world. 
    Now some details.  States with larger populations are already issuing travel alerts and making provisions to handle the millions of people who will see the eclipse.  States with smaller populations will have fewer locals to deal with but they also are states that have widely spaced roads which will concentrate crowds on the few roads in those states that cross through the ribbon of totality.  RV parks, motels and hotels along the ribbon of totality are already sold out in many locations.  Those of us with RV's are fortunate, we travel with our motel.  I would not plan to take your motor home into the ribbon of totality unless you have already secured a campground.  My personal planning is to watch the weather as the eclipse approaches.  I'll start watching the weather weeks before the eclipse.  I plan to get close to the area with the greatest probability of clear skies with the motor home and then use the toad to get to the clearest skies with the toad.  I'll try to be at my chosen observing site by sunrise and will watch the entire eclipse from that location.  We'll pack food for the day, liquids and perhaps a celebratory bottle of Champagne.  Once totality passes, many people will start for "home."  This can create tremendous traffic jams so plan to sit tight and watch the whole show before departing your observing site.
    Where do you find specific details?  I gave several references in my entry several months ago.  More are available now as the eclipse approaches.  There are good sites that show details of the ribbon of totality so you can position yourself precisely on its center line.  Many of the sites have eclipse glasses for sale.  These protective glasses, some with aluminized mylar are quite cheap but very effective, are necessary for the partial phases of the eclipse.  Once the sun is completely covered the glasses can be put aside and you will be looking at one of natures most spectacular displays.  The Moon is the dark spot, silhouetted against the light of the corona of the Sun.  You may discern a drop in temperature as totality approaches.  Birds will be singing as though it was sunset coming on.  Listen during totality, can you hear any birds chirping?  At totality, the sky becomes dark enough that planets and bright stars can be seen.  Using binoculars (during totality only) you can get a good look at solar prominence which look like small red "flames" rising from the Sun.  If we are lucky we may even be able to see other features.  Large solar ejections and flares can cause the corona to have strange shapes. 
    Whatever you see, it will be an event you will never forget.  
    Just a few links:
    The Great American Eclipse - Fantastic traffic and crowd information
    Eclipse 2017 - Great video of the shadow sweeping across the US
    NASA - As only NASA can do it.  Great images of the Sun.  What to look for.  A great set of nine regional, detailed maps of the path of totality.  How to photograph.  Weather prospects. Much more...
    Space.com - Great detail, how to photograph, what to look for.
    Each link has it's own special information, most have eclipse glasses for sale, as does Amazon.  Order soon, don't be disappointed.  Your eyes are way too important to take chances with someone's home-made eclipse viewer.  I ordered 50 glasses for less than $1.00 each.
  16. tbutler
    That is a place I have wanted to go. You have a 40' and I a 45', will there be a problem for me? On roads and campgrounds? Do you reserve ahead, before you go?


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

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

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

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

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

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

    I would not hesitate to come again. You will find yourself in the company of many smaller campers in most cases but hey, you drive what you've got! Had to laugh on ferry to Blanc Sablon we were in line with a small van camper and I noticed the license plate was Switzerland. I struck up a conversation with the driver on the trip across the strait. He laughed saying, "Our campers are like our countries. US is big, Switzerland is small."
  17. tbutler
    This summer is our 15th summer on the road.  We've traveled in every state in the US (except Hawaii) and every province in Canada (except Nunavut).  Given that experience, there are still new things to do and see.  We left Scottsbluff, NE on August first headed for Denver.  We have family, a sister and daughter there and we've stopped there at least once every year.  Still, we found something new on this trip.  Louise's sister and her husband have now retired and we had a nice visit with them and their family. 
    We've done dinners out with Elaine and Lou before but this year we had the younger generation making suggestions for places to eat.  We found ourselves in old Arvada, a ten block area in the center of the old town.  The old town area is thriving as an evening hot spot for the younger generation.  Bars, restaurants and parks all with music make it a world of pleasant experiences.  The Grandview Tavern and Grill has a back yard patio and it made for a relaxing meal and conversation.  After enjoying a good meal we spent some time strolling the streets marveling at all the activity.  Lou and Elaine took us on a tour of the old town, pointing out points of interest and places with family connections. 
    Our next stop was the Old Arvada Tavern.  In Lou's memory, it was a rather drab old bar, a place he hung out while waiting to pick up his son from ball practice.  Today it is alive with young people.  Downstairs there is a full menu and the place was packed.  Our social advisors had directed us to take a right inside the entrance and go through the "telephone booth" to the upstairs.  We followed instructions and were welcomed into a world of entertainment.  Like many of the bars, this one featured live entertainment on the weekend.  The band for this evening was a bluegrass band.  They were just warming up and adjusting the sound.  We found a vacant table next to the stage.  I've never been a big fan of bluegrass but a live performance would be a first.  Once the band was warmed up they launched into their performance.  Watching the musicians and listening to the music was a real joy.  We stayed through the first set then retreated to quieter surroundings at their home for the rest of the evening. 
    After a week and a half in Denver we drove to Sheridan, WY to spend time with our daughter and her boyfriend.  Karen works in Westminster near Denver but is dating Brent who is living in Sheridan.  The occasion was the Sheridan Rodeo.  We settled into Peter D's RV Park for the week on Monday evening.  Tuesday morning we explored the town.  If we're going to spend a week here and there is going to be a crowd, we had better know our way around town.  We found the rodeo arena and got an idea of the schedule.  Wednesday evening we purchased tickets to the rodeo and watched the program on our own.  I had been to small town rodeo's years ago but this was a much bigger deal.  For Louise this was all new.  The evening began with the Indian Races.  Teams of Native Americans race around the track surrounding the arena.  Starting standing on the ground they have to mount their horse, no saddle, ride a loop then change to a new horse, off of one, on the next without assistance.  Run one more loop and change to a third horse for the final lap.  Pandemonium reigned at each change of the horses.  The rider had to do this unassisted.  Other team members were charged with managing the horses during the race.  Some horses had their own mind how this was all to work.  More than one horse ran a lap without a rider.  One rider chased the horse all the way around the track then grabbed the next horse and completed the race.  Another rider rand several hundred yards holding on the the horse's tail before giving up.  After four nights of racing, the team with the best time would claim a $10,000 prize.  Other events were pretty much what you can see on TV but far more exciting and amazing when watching it in person. 
    While in Sheridan, waiting for Karen to arrive for the weekend, we played a round of golf at the local golf course.  We also toured King's Ropes downtown.  This is a western store and more.  The Kings have been saddle makers for several generations.  They also stock a whole warehouse of ropes that are made on site.  You can watch the ropes being made by hand.  There are also several workstations for saddle work  You can drop off a saddle for repair or restoration or order your own custom saddle.  Behind the store is an amazing museum with hundreds of saddles of all kinds, photos, books, guns, spurs, cowboy gear of all kinds and old time photos.  You can stand in one place and look from ceiling to floor to see everything on display in that area.  We spent an hour and a half in a quick walk through. 
    Karen arrived late Friday so we met her and Brent at The Silver Spur for breakfast.  From there we were off to watch the bed races.  Teams with specially built beds race down the street for two blocks to a packed house on the sidewalks.  Fun is had by everyone.  To get front row seats, you have to park your lawn chair on main street Friday afternoon.  Following the bed races is the big parade.  This is a major parade with horses, cars, floats of all kinds, and audience participation.  Watchers and float riders battle with water cannons at various locations along the route.  Mars candy magnates live in the area and there is no shortage of Mars candy distributed along the route.  Lunch followed ant then I spent several hours at the Native American Pow Wow on the lawn of the Sheridan Inn.  Native dancers performed a variety of dances with narration to explain the significance of each dance. 
    We had ordered tickets for the Saturday night finals more than a month before the rodeo.  The grandstand was all sold out so we purchased tickets in what we learned was the new stands on the west side of the arena.  The rodeo clown labeled this area as the newbee section!  We had front row seats, just a fence separating us from the horses and livestock.  We were just a few yards from the gates and had a great view of the entire arena.  All the participants were pushing their limits for the final performance of the rodeo and the show was spectacular. 
    Sunday was a day to relax and wrap up visits.  We slept in then joined Brent's family for a birthday celebration for his sister.  We said good bye to Karen then returned to the park for the evening.  We would leave Monday morning to return to Denver for another week and a half.  On the way south we drove over the Bighorn Mountains enjoying the spectacular scenery on US Hwy 14. We stopped for a few days near Thermopolis, WY,  Camping at Boysen State Park.  One of the surprises of the trip was our entrance into Thermopolis.  The hot springs there has a spectacular travertine terrace visible from the road as you enter the northern end of town.  There are several venues offering hot springs for swimming and soaking.  The grounds are pleasant to walk, offering great views of the spring and the mineral shelf.  Just south of Thermopolis is the Wedding of the Waters.  An informational display marks the place where the Wind River changes its name to the Bighorn River.  The river was given different names upriver and at the mouth and when it became apparent that it was the same river a compromise arrangement was to use both names for the same river.  The Wedding of the Waters marks the location where the name changes.  Up stream, the Wind River Canyon is a spectacular sight.  At the upper end of the canyon is Boyson Dam and Reservoir.  There are numerous campgrounds there, above and below the dam.  All campgrounds are dry without electric which made the stay a little uncomfortable with temperatures near 100 during the day.  Fortunately, breezes off the lake made for cooler evening temperatures.  We stopped in Rawlings on Wednesday night and spent Thursday night at Cummins Rocky Mountain in anticipation of scheduled maintenance on Friday.  We were in and out Friday morning and into Dakota Ridge RV Park that afternoon. 
  18. tbutler
    It has been a while since my last entry but I have an excuse ...
    Louise and I have just returned from a visit to our 50th state. It was the 50th state we have visited together and also the 50th state for the U.S. Of course, I'm speaking of the only state that is impractical to visit in a motorhome! Hawaii is one long wet drive and the puddle is so deep. We elected to make our trip on a cruise, which, in a way, is a little like living in a motorhome.
    Our ship, the Celebrity Constellation, was to be our home for the next two weeks. Once we were unpacked, our stateroom became home and we just needed to take any materials we needed for day trips. After nine years of living in a motorhome, an inside stateroom on the lower deck of a cruise ship wasn't really a challenge. In fact, we enjoyed the darkness and slept late several mornings!
    Our trip started on the 13th of March in San Diego. After four relaxing days at sea we reached Hilo, Hawaii. Hilo is a wet place being on the windward side of the Big Island as the natives call the island of Hawaii. I've stayed in Hilo several times before (under a previous administration as Louise likes to put it) and always enjoyed the city. My Earth science background has always found the volcanoes, waterfalls and beaches to be very interesting. A cruise really isn't the best way to see Hawaii. We like being on our own schedule and the cruise ship sets a very strict schedule. We took a shore excursion which was a hike on Kilauea in an attempt to see red lava. We had no luck with that but did get a good look at lava trees and many other lava formations. We also had a chance to see the summit features of Kilauea and quick stops at the Mauna Loa Macadamia Nut plantation/processing center and Akaka Falls before returning to the ship.
    Our second stop was in Honolulu the next day. We had both been to Honolulu before so we decided to spend the day on our own rather than go on a tour. We found the shopping to be relaxing and managed to scoop up souvenirs for most of the family in the shopping center right by the dock. Surprisingly the prices were quite reasonable with most shops offering deep discounts. Apparently the state of the economy has left them hungry for business from cruise ships. Of course we didn't have room in our suitcases for all the gifts so we sent those home via UPS. Then we hiked up to the punchbowl which is the cemetery for the Pacific war veterans. It was my first visit and we took our time walking around reflecting on the tremendous sacrifices made by so many for the benefit of all of us. The climb to the punchbowl was exhausting but I kept thinking it was nothing like what these men and women faced during WWII and other Pacific conflicts including Korea and Viet Nam.
    The third day in Hawaii and the third stop was at Lahaina on Maui. Here we wanted to do some snorkeling and signed up for a tour with the Pacific Whale Foundation. The cruise ship was much too large for the tiny harbor at Lahaina so we had to take tenders ashore. From the tenth deck of the ship we ate breakfast that morning watching whales surfacing and spouting all around us. This promised to be a great time to do some snorkeling. We got lucky and had an extra adventure when the pilot of the tender mistimed the entry into the harbor and attempted to back up just as a wave swept past us. We climbed the face of the wave with the rear of the tender going high up the face of the wave and then the front of the tender did a nosedive into the surf taking on a fair amount of water. We were returned to the ship and then loaded on another tender for a return trip into the harbor. During our day trip we saw numerous whales and had a nice time snorkeling off the island of Lanai.
    So now it is turning into one of those adventures where you say to yourself this is Kailua Kona so it must be Sunday and it was. Four days and four stops, some people were beginning to wear down at this pace. I overheard one gentleman at the guest relations desk inquiring about selling his shore excursion tickets! We went ashore here to walk around the town and do more shopping. After shipping more "stuff" home we had ice cream then browsed through an art gallery. We found a beautiful glass piece that we both like and had it shipped home also! The main drag in Kailua Kona was shut down for the afternoon for a street fair and we enjoyed strolling from booth to booth looking at creations of the many artisans on the Big Island. There were bands playing and there was food for sale. What fun.
    Our final stop, now day 5 in Hawaii, Monday, March 23, was in Nawiliwili on Kauai. We again elected a shore tour package. Louise had never been in a helicopter so I wanted her to experience a helicopter ride. I had taken many a helicopter ride courtesy of Uncle Sam. This one was a little different. Blue Hawaii Helicopters runs a first class operation with safety concerns addressed and wonderful pilots, helicopters and staff. We took off from the airport and circled the island flying through many canyons including the Waimea Canyon, known as the Grand Canyon of Hawaii. We saw spectacular waterfalls everywhere and enjoyed a close look at the dramatic Napali Coast. We returned to the ship for our late afternoon departure and enjoyed some relaxing time poolside as the ship left harbor.
    The next five days would be at sea as we returned to the US with a short stop in Ensenada, Mexico. The first day out of Hawaii, there were very few people moving around the ship as everyone was catching up on rest. Most of us managed to over schedule our time in Hawaii. The sea time was welcome. The seas were relatively calm and even Louise who experiences motion sickness fairly easily took no medicine after the first two days at sea out of San Diego. This was our first cruise and we enjoyed it greatly. Food on hand most of the time with no dishes to wash were a treat for Louise. Unfortunately, it was too much of a treat for me. It will take me several weeks to shed the additional pounds I packed on during the trip. We arrived back in San Diego one week ago on Sunday, March 28 and flew back to Texas that afternoon.
    It will be a while before we take another cruise but this one certainly set a high standard. For relaxation it would be hard to beat a cruise. We're back in the motorhome and back to our routine. Life goes on and it isn't bad in the motorhome!
  19. tbutler
    Let me introduce our motor home, VGER.  VGER is named for the villainous character in the first of the Star Trek movies.  VGER has been in our family going on 15 years this summer.  It (VGER was an it) was purchased at a Monaco Come Home Rally in Raine, LA.  We traded in a 10 year old Monaco we had purchased as a used coach in the spring of 2001.  We sold our home and moved into that used coach full time on July 7, 2001.  VGER was purchased new, 1235.4 miles on the odometer when we took possession on November 14, 2003.  Today it has 177,326.1 miles on the odometer. 
    From November 2003 until October 2010, we lived in VGER full time.  Starting in the fall of 2010, we move into a mobile home each fall and move back into VGER each spring.  When in VGER, we travel.  A long stay is on the order of 3 to 4 weeks.  Those stays are when we are visiting our children and grandchildren.  Once a year we move into our children's neighborhoods and become neighbors for a period of time.  In between time we follow our noses.  We've visited 49 states and 12 provinces in Canada. 
    We have begun slowly remodeling VGER.  Carpeting, lights, some furniture, plumbing and more.  Some of the remodeling has been out of necessity some just to keep the coach looking modern.  Our work continued this summer, right up to the time we found our next motor home.  While at Gillette, first at the Monaco International pre-rally and finally at the FMCA Convention, we purchased a 2015 Monaco Dynasty.  The Windsor is up for sale, look for the ad in the Family RV'ing Magazine (FMCA) January issue.
    We transferred the license from the Windsor to the Dynasty, VGER lives on.  Since the purchase we have put 4500 miles on the Dynasty and are enjoying many of it's features.  There is a trade-off when moving from a 40' coach to a 45' coach.  The two are not directly comparable as they are of a different age. 
    Right away we realized that the relative frugality of the Windsor was dramatically different from the Dynasty.  Fuel mileage dropped from 8.3 with the Windsor to 6.5 with the Dynasty.  That was no surprise, I figured it might even be lower.  The Dynasty has an Aqua-Hot for hot water and heat.  Both run off the fuel tank as does the generator.  With the Windsor only the generator shared the fuel tank.  With all these uses for the diesel fuel, I have lost the ability to get a true mileage performance figure. 
    Due to the demand for electric, we have an induction cooktop, the Dynasty really needs to be plugged in regularly.  The generator will run things but using the generator extensively is an expensive proposition.  The water and waste tanks are roughly the same size as the Windsor but the water usage in the Dynasty is going to be greater.  The toilets use significantly more water with each flush.  The shower has a rain shower head which is a big water user.  That means we will have to be hooked up every two or three days.  With the Windsor we were able to go close to a week without hook-ups and longer if we really needed to stretch it.
    When we pulled up to our home at Sandpipers Resort in Edinburg, Texas we faced another challenge.  Our parking space is adjacent to our mobile home.  The driveway barely accommodated the length of the Windsor with our toad parked behind.  I knew that and planned to park the toad cross-way in the driveway, that worked fine.  We also had to maneuver a longer coach onto the driveway.  The park road is fairly narrow and there is no way to run off on the opposite side.  We always had to make three or four passes to jockey the Windsor into the driveway.  I didn't even know if we could get the Dynasty  into the driveway.  As it turned out, we made it, a few more passes than the Windsor.  With all the slides open we have about 6 inches between the Dynasty and the roof of the mobile home.  Whew! That is close. 
    Surprisingly, the space in the storage bays is less in the Dynasty than the Windsor.  Some of our gear made the trip home in the toad rather than in the storage bays.  We'll go through some winnowing of our gear before departing next spring.  All in all we are quite happy with our new VGER and as we get to know it better I'm certain we'll continue to look back to the Windsor with many happy memories while enjoying the luxury of the Dynasty.
  20. tbutler
    Our trip through Labrador picks up on Sunday morning as we depart the Paradise River Rest Area. The bridge over the river is a long metal bridge and it was talking to us as the morning sun began to warm the cold metal structure. As the metal expanded there were occasional loud metallic bangs that echoed through the canyon of the Paradise River. We crossed the river and continued on our way.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    We had driven the entire route, approximately 1030 miles, in four days. Each of our three nights we boondocked where we could find a place to park. There were few places to stop and no tourist activities. This area is poorly mapped, our mapping program only shows the roads we traveled if we zoom in very close and then many of the features are not labeled. There were biting flies in the remote areas which made outdoor activities very unattractive. So why go there? I learned a lot about the area by simply seeing the terrain and activities along the route. This is a very remote area to visit and being able to tour any remote and little explored area is exciting in its own way. I would love to go back and spend more time if the roads were all paved and there were more facilities for tourists, RV parks, scenic viewpoints, information signs, and parks. I don't think these will be available any time soon and if they were, they would destroy the very wilderness nature of the area.
  21. tbutler
    I am Tom, my wife is Louise. I'll not spend time on further introductions. If you want more information, please see our Meet a Member feature under Join FMCA on the main menu of the FMCA page. I promise you more information than you could possibly want to know. Even my friend Pipewrenchgrip said he read MOST of it!!!
    I have been very active on the FMCA Community the last few days. We are away from our motor home doing babysitting for my daughter and her husband. Grandson Ryan and granddaughter Kaitlyn are pretty good most of the time so I have time on my hands while they are busy. We are in Foristell, Missouri (Go Tigers!) where the temperatures are 50 degrees right now. Our motor home sits in Edinburg, Texas where the temperature is 100 degrees today! Glad we left the air conditioner set or we'd find the interior melted when we got back.
    Speaking of Tigers, was that a great game last night or what?? I guess that depends on your perspective. From the Missouri bench it was fantastic. Sorry Memphis fans. I'm speaking Elite Eight in the NCAA Division I Men's Basketball Tournament.
    We'll fly Southwest Airlines back to Harlingen (about an hour East of Edinburg) tomorrow and be in our cozy home by evening. Pipewrenchgrip, Bill and Laura, will have dinner for us tomorrow evening. Sure hope I can convince them to tune the NCAA for the Mizzou game. They have been watching our rig while we are gone. This is a duty we've traded off during the winter for the last seven years.
    Harlingen, Edinburg, McAllen are all in extreme southern Texas in an area known as the Rio Gande Valley. You have to look at a map or drive there to really appreciate how far South these cities are. Our latitude is about equal to the southern tip of Florida. We are much further South than Yuma or San Diego. In fact, Amarillo Texas is closer to Fargo, North Dakota than it is to Brownsville, Texas! Mild winters and hot summers rule. We usually arrive about the end of October and depart for cooler climes in mid April. Our community is a close knit "family" and springtime brings the sorrow of parting. Being one of the last winter visitors to leave means saying good bye to everyone one at a time. Most of them will return but there are a few every year who we won't see for some time. We have a directory that lists all who want to be listed and use it to plan visits when we are near our friends.
    Enough for today, got to leave something to say in the future. Look for more information once or twice a week.
  22. tbutler
    I had to check my last blog entry to see when it was posted.  It was September 6, not quite three months ago.  Since then we have been on the go...
    We spent a month with our daughter and her family in California.  Our granddaughters are growing up fast but a few golden moments still to go.  We took them to a working farm.  A 1940's version of a poor working farm.  We slept in the rehabbed chicken coup.  The girls fed the cows, gathered the eggs, bottle fed some really large calves, made friends with an aging bull that was as big as a house, well, maybe a chicken coup.  The girls loved the tire swing and the adopted kittens.  Thankfully they didn't ask to take them home. 
    During our stay in California I spent several days communicating with everyone in government I could to convince them to get on top of the situation in Puerto Rico following hurricane Maria.  My comments were the same that I heard from numerous others, this was an extreme circumstance.  The nature of the island and the near total destruction was going to make recovery here much more difficult than any other area.  Today as I write this, most of the island remains without electrical power and hundreds of thousands of island residents have left the island and come to the mainland US, mostly to Florida.  There are many in and near Houston and throughout Florida who are dealing with the aftermath of Harvey and Irma yet today.  They are so much better off than those in Puerto Rico.  Roads and bridges remain out of service.  Food and water are difficult to get in many locations.  Huge numbers of people are living in what remains of their homes with no hope of secure shelter in the near future.  Give what you can to agencies involved in hurricane relief. 
    Our return trip from California has lately involved a trip north to Elkton, Oregon to the Oh-Ho (the Oregon House) for a week with the above family.  This year they were off to Mexico and we got relieved of grandparent duty a week early so we made plans to attend an event we haven't been able to see in 16 years on the road.  We were able to get last minute reservations with the Monaco International Chapter of FMCA to attend the Balloon Fiesta in Albuquerque.  I can spell it without looking it up or playing word check lotto - now.  We invited our friends, former FMCA members, now without the big wheels, to join us at the Fiesta.  Five days dry camping with four adults on board - and we loved it!  The event is spectacular.  We were parked four rows back from the launch field.  Our gathering point for meals and socializing was right on the front line.  I attended most launches and recoveries.  I was hooked.  If you attend, and if you love balloons for the flying or the beauty or the excitement of the launch and recovery, you will love it also.  There were 550 balloons this year and most launched in the morning and returned by noon.  The evening glow is fun, no flying but great chance to visit with pilots and crews.
    We left Albuquerque buoyed by the events of the five days at the Fiesta.  We paced ourselves across west Texas and headed for Corpus Christi.  Since 2012 I have been active in a group called Texas Master Naturalist.  Formed from a splinter group from the Master Gardner group in San Antonio in 1998, the Texas Master Naturalist program has expanded to more than 40 chapters state-wide.  Each year there is a statewide meeting of participants.  In years past the meeting has been at remote resorts near interesting nature sites.  As the size of the organization increased, the character of these meeting has changed.  This year almost 600 Texas Master Naturalists gathered at the Corpus Christi Omni Hotel.  I have attended several of these events and enjoy the chance to meet and talk with Texas Master Naturalists from other areas and learn about what they are doing.  We spent the weekend of October 20 - 22 in Corpus Christi before making the trip to our winter retreat in Edinburg, Texas.
    So now we're home.  Unpacking, cleaning up our mobile home residence, settling in to our winter routine.  We have excellent lawn care during the summer but now that's my job.  Lots of little things like having the air conditioner serviced, loading the refrigerator, turning on the DirecTV receivers, getting caught up with six months mail that has been stored.  We have the letter stuff delivered but the rest sits in a container waiting for our return.  I have created our bicycle ride schedule for the park, Louise has conducted her first book club meeting.  Louise spend a weekend in Austin for her retirement occupation, the Texas Silver Haired Legislature, a senior citizen group organized to promote and look out for the interests of senior citizens.  She is very good at this. 
    So the holidays are upon us.  We will bicycle South Padre Island Tuesday this week.  We play golf on Monday, I bowl in a league (as a substitute for a friend) on Wednesday, Thursday is a day of leisure for me, my chance to mow the lawn.  Louise plays cards with groups of ladies whenever she has a chance.  Friday our park bowling league begins it's season with an organizational meeting.  The weekend?  This weekend we are painting the deck and porch.  With luck, we'll have that finished tomorrow.
    I spent last Sunday helping band birds, a citizen science activity.  We capture birds in mist nets, the birds are measured and weighed and tagged with a leg band and released.  If or when they are recaptured, we learn about their travels, habits, age, and many other possible bits of information.  It is basic avian research.  The kind of thing that professional scientists are too busy to do.  The professionals are delighted to have the data.  They, their graduate students, and others use the data to increase our understanding of the life of birds.  This is one of my volunteer activities for the Texas Master Naturalist program.  I will attend a chapter meeting Monday night and will receive my re-certification pin for 2017.  Re-certification requires eight hours of advanced training and 40 hours of volunteer work each year. 
    Retired?  Yes.  How else would I be able to do all this?
  23. tbutler
    We left Orewa Beach Sunday morning headed north to Whangarei and beyond to Russell and the Waitangi Treaty Grounds. After several days in the campervan we had a list of things we needed. Groceries were at the top of the list. Yes, despite our purchase on Friday we were in for another purchase of food. We located the Countdown Grocery and Louise went in to start shopping. I went to a housewares store, Briscoes. I thought it was going to be more like a Lowe’s than a Bed Bath and Beyond but I still managed to find most of what I wanted. I found a door mat marked $19.95, two plastic wine glasses marked $10 each, a good steak knife for $9.99 and a sharp kitchen utility knife for $6.99. The door mat was marked 50% off so it should have been about $10. When everything was rung up, it came to $30.00 NZ. I checked the ticket and everything was on the ticket but at a discounted price. Must have been a big sale day. With the US conversion it came out to $25.19. Now that is better! I remarked to Louise that I wish the manager of the Briscoes store was running the Countdown! Louise spent another $170 at Countdown. While she prepared lunch I went to a technology store in the shopping center and inquired about a cell phone for our use. They directed me to the Vodaphone store which knew exactly what I wanted. I purchased a simple cell phone with 30 minutes of time for $50.00 NZ, $40.87 US. I consider this a bargain considering what it would have cost us to use our AT&T cell phones here in New Zealand. We’ll plan to do the same thing in Australia. No, of course the New Zealand phone won’t work in Australia!
    Shopping and lunch completed, we were off to the Waitangi Treaty Grounds. We arrived at 4:00, inquired and found they were open until 7:00 which gave us time to explore. We paid $100 NZ, $82 US for admission. The treaty grounds are the location where the treaty was signed between Great Britain and the Maori leaders giving the British Crown sovereign control of New Zealand in 1860. A small museum displays photos, artifacts and documents from the signing. A short video describes the events leading up to the treaty signing. The house which was the residence of the an early British resident, James Busby, still stands and has been restored and furnished with period furniture. The gardens were in full bloom. Also on the grounds is a replica Maori fishing camp and a traditional Maori meeting house. We missed the cultural performances, war dances and celebratory dances. We would see them at another site later in the trip. There is also a huge Maori war canoe which held 80 rowers and is launched each February 6 as part of the Waitangi Day celebration of the signing of the treaty. We were there on February 2 and weren’t able to stay for the celebration. We did notice that traffic was really heavy on February 6 and the schools were closed. It was only after several comments to that effect that we remembered this was a holiday, the celebration of the birth of their nation. We walked from the war canoe by the beach back up to the house on the same path William Hobson walked 154 years before as he represented the British Crown at the treaty signing.
    On the western outskirts of Russell is a Kiwi Holiday Park. The facilities were good but the parking was mostly sloping. We found a site that was reasonably level and pulled in. Our neighbors were sitting out having a glass of wine and relaxing when we pulled in. They struck up a conversation right away. I had to excuse myself to hook up the electric and turn on the gas. I told them if I didn’t I wouldn’t get fed tonight. We later went out with our wine glasses and had a wonderful discussion with them. We found numerous things in common. They were from Melbourne, Australia and we exchanged contact information and have an invitation to get together with them when we are in Melbourne next month. The RV community is the same everywhere, friends are just a few words away.
  24. 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.
  25. tbutler
    I've been up on the roof washing and cleaning for the last few days. The experience brings to the fore one of the conflicts that plagues me. At heart, I'm a big advocate of trees. They are essential to our existence. Trees are beautiful and useful. Trees are also a nuisance.
    On the good side, trees provide shade and keep our motor home cool. We're in San Andreas, California, and the forecast for the next two days are temperatures in the 100s, so I'll really appreciate the trees around us. I have many favorite memories of trees, but one of the best was in 2003 in northern California, riding my bicycle on the Redwood Highway. To ride along through a forest of these giants was inspiring. It was early morning, there was little traffic, so most of the time it was me and the trees. I've stood in awe looking up at limbs on a Sequoia that are the size of other large trees. Trees anchor the riverbanks on streams I've canoed. Trees and other plants made coal that provides much of our electricity. So what could possibly be wrong with trees?
    A year ago we were parked under the tree from h*ll. It was early spring and the leaves were popping out. With each leaf came a few fragments of the bud packing a very sticky sap. They covered the ground, stuck to our shoes and showed up on the carpet in the motor home. Unfortunately, they also fell on the toad and on the roof of the motor home. A year later, I'm still trying to get the sap off the roof. There are a few spots that won't come off. Fortunately, a year of sunshine had dried most of the sap and it's chipping off a little at a time. I know that the trees contributed only a small amount of the dirt on the roof, but still, I hate to park under trees.
    We stayed at a park in Golden, Colorado, recently. It was a park without trees. I really enjoyed the stay. The sites were side-by-side sites with about 6 feet between us and the neighboring RVs. We had large 5th wheels on either side, so they provided good shade for the morning and afternoon sun. It was life without trees and I enjoyed not worrying about what was dropping on the motor home. One afternoon I helped my brother-in-law clean the leaves and maple seeds out of his gutters.
    At our current park, we cut tree branches to get into our site without scraping the paint off the motor home. Once in place we carefully located so we could put our slides out without having branches in contact with the sides and roof of the motor home. Today on the roof, removing dirt and sap, I'm ducking branches. There are two large oak trees to our west that give us some great shade in the late afternoon. We didn't park under them because we listened to the acorns dropping on the roof of RVs in those spaces last year. Tomorrow I'll tackle the air conditioners. I need to blow the leaves out of the cooling fins.
    I love trees.
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