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Blog Entries posted by tbutler

  1. tbutler
    The Weather Channel is busy hunting severe storms. I am watching for their vehicles, when I spot them I'm headed in the opposite direction.
    Today we left Wichita, Kansas headed for Kansas City. Spring storm season is in full swing in the mid-west and the Weather Channel is making the best of it, pursuing storms across the very area we are traveling. The forecast for the whole trip was highlighted in red on the weather map. I told Louise that an early start was in order as the afternoon promised storms. So we were hooked up and on our way early. The trip was uneventful, I kept watching the skies and the clouds were small scattered cumulus. Driving on I-35, I could watch the cloud shadows zip across the highway and noticed that the leading edges were moving northward almost as fast as we were traveling. The warm air pipeline was really working hard today! We had a nice tailwind! We stopped in Emporia to pick up just enough diesel to make it to the Flying J on I-435 on the east side of KC. Why not fill up in Emporia? The price of diesel there was $2.19 per gallon and the price at the KC station was $1.99. Since it was on the way, I'll purchase most of my fuel there. It turned out the price had gone up by 2 cents by the time we got to the KC station but it was still a bargain. Pumping almost 100 gallons we saved $17.00 by making our major purchase at the KC station. Thank you internet!
    We arrived at the Flying J in Kansas City about 1:00 p.m. The pumps for car diesel are inaccessible for RV's so we went to the truck pumps. This made the fill-up faster because of those great big nozzles! Leaving the Flying J, we were driving into turbulent skies. Are those trucks from the Weather Channel? We made it about 7 miles north and just off the interstate highway before the rain started. When it started raining, it came in sheets. We went through hail and more heavy rain. We could hardly see the sign for the campground. It was only the last five or six miles that were stormy out of a trip of 225 miles. Still that experience dominates everything else for the day.
    When we finally found Smith's Fork Park Campground, the campground host came out to greet us in full rain gear! We invited him in because we weren't going out in this downpour. He gave us the layout of the campground and told us which sites were reserved and where we would find the 50 amp hookups. He also cautioned us about the drop off on the left turn corner ahead! Good information to have in a rainstorm.
    We found a campsite and pulled in, shut down the engine and relaxed back into the couch and recliner. I told Louise that I was glad we had a motor home, all our conveniences were right here for us. We didn't have to run outside to our home. We didn't even have to put out slides, there is plenty of room to move around. I started up my computer to check on the storm status. The Weather Bug gave me all the warning and watches, there were severe thunderstorm warnings, tornado watches, flood watches and flash flood warnings! The thunderstorms were lined up and heading our way our way like cars on a train. We just relaxed and enjoyed the show, lightening, thunder, flooded campground, a river flowing down an embankment from athletic fields to our north.
    By 4:00 p.m. the campground host was around to collect the rent! We had neighbors who had pulled in behind us and our toad was keeping them from moving forward. These sites are loops of the main drive, one loop after another. The exit for one is the entrance for the next. Their door was right by a mini-lake! We moved forward then put out our slides and hooked up the water. I would wait for the sewer connection until the weather was better. No rush there, our tanks last for days. Later our neighbors moved out to join friends in a different spot. Oh, well, we didn't have to move to let them off their site.
    The storms have passed off to the south and things are quiet now. The forecast for the next few days is sunny and cool. Ideal weather for relaxing in a nice campsite.
  2. tbutler
    After a one month stay in Denver, we finally said good-bye to family and packed away the loose items in the motor home and set out for Missouri and visits with my relatives. As soon as we unplugged the motor home from the shore power the alarm on the inverter went off, setting off a real learning experience. We had a new inverter installed, a Xantrex RS3000. We had left the electric water heater on when we unplugged the shore power and the inverter was telling us the batteries weren't up to running the water heater. Now I didn't understand that at the time and was concerned that something was wrong with the new inverter. I cleared the warning alarm and shut off the electric switch on the water heater. Now the inverter was switching on and off repeatedly. I was puzzled. We finished unhooking, then went to CW where the inverter had been installed. I needed some help figuring out what was going on. The clerks behind the service desk weren't as concerned as I was but we did finally get the shop foreman to take a look at the unit. He couldn't quickly identify the problem and suggested that I reset the unit. Now the genius who designed this unit put the reset button on the inverter itself, not on the control panel. The inverter is buried in the belly of the motor home in a compartment that is accessed from another compartment that is packed with all the necessary stuff the full time RV'ers need to survive. I unpacked the compartment, got to the unit and reset it. This helped! Now at least the menus were operating properly. I found the problem with the on-off-on-off behavior to be a load sense feature. It would test to see if there was a load and finding an insufficient load switch off again. I deactivated that feature and, viola, the problem was solved. I went through several other tests and everything seemed to be working fine.
    We were off down the road. Our next stop was the Flying J in Aurora, Colorado. We pulled into the lot and up to the propane tank. We had to maneuver around a truck and trailer parked just before the propane tank but got close enough to get a connection to our tank. We shut down everything including the generator. This made the inverter unhappy because I had shut it off with the manual switch. Apparently the inverter feels that it owns the generator and I should keep my hands off the switch. Now a number of the menu items disappeared from the menu and I couldn't get the generator auto start to work. AAARRGGHH! We got the propane and enough diesel to keep us going to a cheaper fuel source, a Flying J in Kansas.
    We took I-70 to Lyman, Colorado then dropped south to US 50 where we turned east toward Kansas. We had been with family for a month and I needed some alone time with Louise so we are taking the long way home through southern Kansas. I have traveled some of these roads a long time ago but it is always different. This trip the winter wheat is thriving and summer crops are being planted. We enjoyed the agricultural scenery and the leisurely pace of a non-interstate road. Just before reaching Kansas we found a nice rest area and parked for the night. We had truckers for neighbors and of course there was a railroad track right behind the rest area. There were no road crossings on the track so we only heard the rumble of the train, no whistle.
    The next morning I am on the phone to Xantrex searching for a solution. They suggest resetting the unit! AAARRGGHH! But this time I am ready. I think I can poke the reset button with the window awning pull rod (WAPR). I had to think about something while trying to go to sleep after each train! I crawl in over the top of the stuff as far as I can and then use the WAPR to open the plexiglass door in front of the inverter. With a little squinting I can just see that little red button. I brace the WAPR against the plexiglass and twist it so the end presses the red button. Viola! The inverter is reset! Back inside I am able to reprogram the inverter with no problem. I give Louise instruction on starting and stopping the generator by manipulating the menu for the inverter!
    We are off to Dodge City, Kansas by noon. No sense rushing things. We decided to stay at Gunsmoke RV and arrived there about 4:00 p.m. We got a nice pull through site and settled in for the evening. The electrical connection between the motor home and toad were not working properly so I spent some time working on that problem. I fixed one problem only to have another crop up. Turns out I can have the right turn signal or the left turn signal but not both! I am going to have to replace the receptacle on the toad. Those springy pins just don't last forever. I'll have a chance to work on this when I get to Missouri. In the meantime, I can't make any left turns. I'll be a UPS driver in no time!
    Wednesday we left Gunsmoke RV and stopped in Dodge City to see the Boot Hill Museum. I had been here before and remember it as kind of a tourist trap but Louise hadn't seen it. I was impressed, either they have improved things tremendously or my memory is really bad. Anyway, we enjoyed touring the museum before heading on down the road. Our lunch stop was a quick shop lot in Greensburg, Kansas. Greensburg was hit by a monster F5 tornado on May 4, 2007, just over two years ago. The quick shop lot where we stopped had only the flooring and the stubs of the pumps left. All around us were trees that had been trimmed by the tornado, just trunks with a few branches now growing out about 15 feet off the ground. Twisted sign posts and concrete pads marked other buildings that were no more. We saw lots of new construction going on as Greensburg rebuilds.
    Wichita is our next stop. We'll stay two nights here before heading to Kansas City and a weekend visit with my sister. We watched a line of thunderstorms develop off to the east of Wichita as the sun was setting on our campsite. There are storm warnings out all along that line. Could it be another night for tornadoes? Glad we're on the back side of the line. <UPDATE> Yes, we were on the back side of the line of thunderstorms which did produce tornadoes across Oklahoma and Missouri during the night of May 13-14.
  3. tbutler
    At first glance this might not be what you think of when you think of going RVing but this adventure was made possible by our RV lifestyle. Staying as long as we are in Denver would have been prohibitive if we weren't living in our motor home. Having all my resources at hand made this work for me.
    Everything has fallen into place and I have just completed my training to fly gliders. I started this quest on Thursday April 23rd and was able to satisfy the FAA authorized examiner on the oral and flight performance exams on Sunday, May 4. These were 12 intense days of work to get to this point. Having never been in a glider before, everything about gliders was foreign territory. Having a private pilot license already made the process much easier and quicker. I didn't have to take the introductory ground school or knowledge test. I did have to take the glider ground school and this was accomplished with the help of John. I had to learn how to fly the glider with an emphasis on what is different about glider and power airplanes. Sean guided me through this process. For the first few days, as with any aerial instruction, we only flew with good weather, light winds and high ceilings. As my skills progressed the weather became less of a factor with the exception of low ceilings. On those days we did ground work, learning to understand performance factors in gliders and exploring techniques of soaring and cross country gliding.
    I made landings right from the beginning and did the take off on my third flight and each flight after that. Each flight was short, the longest being about 20 minutes so the learning was concentrated. I had to make thirty flights, ten of them had to be solo flights. I purchased the 30 flight package to take me through the whole program. It turned out I needed about 3 more flights and finished them off on Friday, May 1. I was signed off to take my oral exam and flight check ride.
    I was set to use Saturday to study for the oral exam and to plan the cross country flight my flight examiner, Quay, had set as one of my practical assignments. I wouldn't actually fly the cross country, just demonstrate my skills at planning one and be able to discuss and explain the reasons for planning the way I did. My plans hit a bump when Louise's mother went back into the hospital. She had been recovering nicely up to this point but was complaining about abdominal pain. Louise and I went to the hospital, Irene was in the emergency room with Louise's sister and her husband as well as Louise's oldest daughter. I brought my study materials along and worked while in the waiting room. Mom was dismissed from the hospital about 8:00 p.m. I went home as soon as I knew she was OK. It turned out to be nothing serious.
    Sunday I was up early to get weather reports before meeting Quay at his office in Aurora, Colorado. He grilled me, in a friendly way, for three hours. Then we were off to the airport in Boulder to do the check ride. I could have flown better but it was good enough to get my license. So now I am a licensed glider pilot. The weather held off long enough for me to fly but it rained on me all the way back to Wheat Ridge. So I beat the weather after all. One more achievement that I always wanted to reach has been accomplished.
    Meanwhile, our plans for the trip to Florida have been canceled. We'll stay here another week and then head for Missouri to see my mother, children and grandchildren. Maybe we'll get to see a shuttle launch next year!
  4. tbutler
    We were into our second week in Denver last week. Louise was busy taking care of her mother and while I could help some, Mom was getting better and mostly needed supervision. Louise needed a nightly debriefing. So being the restless sort, I thought ... "I have always wanted to add a glider certification to my pilots license. Here I am in one of the glider meccas of the U.S. for an extended period of time. I wonder what opportunities there are?" A quick check on the WWWeb brought me to Mile High Gliders in Boulder, CO. I called and talked to the owner, Dave. He set me up for an interview with an instructor the following day.
    On Wednesday, I met Sean, late 20s, learned gliders in Hawaii and looked the part! Sean did a short interview, took me out and introduced me to their instructional gliders. We pre-flighted one, climbed in and went flying. I had the controls for a bit during the first flight and then we landed. These teaching sessions will be short; we don't go far from the airport and then return.
    After landing we hooked up to the tow plane again and were airborne in short order. This time I got more stick time, some practice following the tow plane (not as simple as it looks), turns, stalls and flying the landing pattern but Sean did the landing. We parked the glider after two flights because the wind was picking up. While you can fly gliders in winds, they weren't suitable for the practice that I needed to do.
    Thursday the weather was not suitable, for flying either. I spent a few hours at the airport after dropping off our motor home at Camping World. We are getting a new inverter/charger installed, so I turned our home over to the experts at Camping World in Wheat Ridge, CO.
    They had told us we could stay in the motor home Thursday night. A call from them Thursday confirmed that, so I made it a point to arrive before closing time. When I arrived I found we had no 12V current in the motor home. That meant no heat, no water. Even the refrigerator wouldn't work without the 12V for the controls. I caught two workers in the shop and prevailed upon them to help. Since they couldn't find the problem, they hooked up a 12V battery to the refrigerator to keep it running. We stayed the night with Louise's sister.
    Friday I spent the morning at Camping World. I worked with a crew of four to five techs who were buzzing around the motor home like bees at a hive. They tested everything and talked back and forth, seeking the source of the problem. They thought the 12 V was working when they left the unit Thursday night. Eventually, after much searching, the "a-ha moment" occurred. Dan said if they couldn't find the problem with the power, perhaps the ground was the problem.
    Viola. Connect the ground on the inverter and everything works again! I don't understand it, and that is why I have these guys working on it. I thought the DC was grounded to the frame of the motor home and they were testing the power at various points against the frame. They got nothing until connecting the ground at the inverter! At that point I was off to the airport.
    Friday was a good day to fly and I was able to fly six times. The first flight I took over the stick at 500 feet above ground and with each flight I was doing more of the flying. I made all six landings. The second flight we were 200 feet above ground when I got the stick. From there on, I was doing take-offs and landings. By Friday afternoon, I was walking on air. What a great experience.
    Before leaving the airport , I signed on for their intense five-day program, which should get me the glider certification on my pilots certificate. This was possible because I already had a pilots license and lots of experience in the air. I had been practicing many of the skills needed already. Now all I had to learn was to deal with the silence of flying in a glider, right? Not really, it is more complicated than that. Basically, I have to learn all the things that are unique about flying a glider. If I didn't have the pilots license it would have taken at least twice as long to get to the glider certification.
    Upon returning to Camping World to pick up the motor home, we found it parked heading out the driveway, a good sign. We paid the bill, picked up the keys and then went back to our parking spot at The Prospect RV Park. Everything seems to be working fine so far. I reloaded the compartment with access to the inverter, and when I closed the compartment door, I found water dripping from the refrigerator access door outside. Removing the access panel, I was greeted with a fine mist of water coming from the ice maker connecting hose. I knew this problem, because I had replaced one about two years ago. So I shut off the water at the valve immediately before the faulty hose and turned off the ice maker.
    Saturday I took Louise to the airport in Boulder to see the operation and perhaps watch me fly. It was not to be -- the weather was low clouds and flying, while possible, would be just up and down without any chance to practice other maneuvers. I worked several hours with John, a physics professor, on some of the book work required.
    We returned to Denver and enjoyed some family time with Louise's two sisters and her mother. We did some shopping. Louise needed some new walking shoes and my Nikes were wearing thin on the soles, so off to the mall for shoes. On the way home I stopped at Lowe's and picked up a replacement hose for the ice maker. I couldn't find the connections for the clear plastic hose that was originally installed and which I had replaced several years ago. I bought a stainless-steel reinforced hose with fittings for under three dollars. The one-foot hose fit fine and now perhaps I won't have to replace that part again. The water is back on and the ice maker works! Time for a drink!
    Sunday we woke to sunshine. I was off to the airport and spent the day there from 9 a.m. until about 4 p.m. I worked on my pre-solo written exam in between flights. John took over my flight instruction today and gave me a good workout with three flights in the morning.
    After a break in midday, we returned to flying in the afternoon. The winds had now picked up and the flying was more difficult. The fact that I was flying in these conditions meant that they were confident in my ability to cope with the challenge and still learn. Three more flights in the afternoon and I was finished for the day. I turned in my pre-solo exam to John and left hoping that I would see the solo on Monday.
    The forecast for Monday is once again low clouds and rain. Tuesday looks better. If all goes well, I'll be able to take my FAA check ride by Thursday or Friday. We are hoping to leave Denver on Saturday, May 2. I'd love to have a new pilots license in my pocket. I have almost half of the flights I paid for under my belt and the forecast suggests at least four of the next five days will be good for flying. I think I'll make it!
  5. tbutler
    We arrived in Denver last Monday to help care for Louise's mother who had a heart attack, angioplasty and a stent inserted into an artery to resolve the situation. She had great care at Exempla-Lutheran Hospital in Wheat Ridge and even at age 88 was able to leave the hospital on Wednesday. We took her home to Louise's youngest sisters home. Louise's sister took her mother in five years ago when she could no longer live alone. Mom has been able to care for herself during the day while the rest of the family works. Now, that has changed if only temporarily. Her mobility is down, her medications are up and she needs help with simple tasks. We are filling the gap providing "day care" for her while she recovers from her surgery. What happens when we leave depends on how well she recovers.
    Now if you have been watching the news, you know that a major winter storm has been slowly moving across the mountain states. Forecasts for Denver ranged from a foot of snow to as much as 24 inches. Mountain areas got plenty of snow and I-70 across the mountains was closed due to avalanche danger. There was an avalanche on one of the smaller highways in Colorado. It took two cars off the road but luckily no major injuries. For us the rain started on Friday morning. We drove north to pick up Mom for a doctors visit. When we got to their house about five miles north, they had three inches of snow already.
    We are staying at The Prospect RV Park in Wheat Ridge, a suburb of Denver. It's not fancy but very affordable and close to where Mom is staying. Friday morning the rain had formed a small lake near the rear of our motor home. We have water and electric but no sewer on this site. The manger, Nancy, has promised us a site with a sewer connection as soon as one is available. Meanwhile we are showering at Louise's sisters house.
    We took Mom to the doctor and returned home. The blanket of wet snow on the driveway almost prevented us from making it up the incline into the garage. After getting Mom settled in the warm house I went out to shovel the driveway. The snow was coming down in large heavy wet flakes. It wasn't long before everything I wore was wet. About halfway through the job, my nephew Frank came home and pitched in shoveling. Between the two of us the driveway, walk and porch were cleared in short order. I love shoveling snow so much, I may give up the full time life and buy a house way up north somewhere - NOT!
    After an early dinner, we headed for home. I spent ten minutes wiping snow off the Trailblazer, put it in 4WD and started to back away from the curb in front of the house. The roadway slopes down into the gutter at the curb and the slick wet snow under the tires was now ice. I could get the Trailblazer to move but the front tires just slid, I couldn't get it to turn away from the curb. I loaded up our gear and Louise and tried going forward but no luck. I got the shovel and cleared a path behind the rear wheels - no luck. So I dug out all four wheels and finally freed ourselves from the curb. The residential street was deep in slushy snow but the 4WD handled it nicely. Once we made it back to the main roads, they were clear enough to make travel easier. The rest of the trip back to Prospect RV was uneventful. When we arrived I saw that the small lake at the rear of the RV was now a large lake. The only place to park the car was right next to our front door. Even then, we were in the shallows of the lake when we got out of the car.
    The snow on our roof blocked the satellite dome and we were reduced to watching local TV. This morning the rain resumed and warmer temperatures (it's almost 40 now) have cleared the snow off the satellite dome. Louise is enjoying West Side Story on the encore drama channel. Except for snow on the roofs the area here at Prospect RV is now a big wet lake. We have been reassured that it will soak into the ground quickly but it is still raining. Warm weather later this week will bring relief and we'll be able to get around the motor home but for now we are staying inside rather than wading out! It isn't this wet in Denver normally so everyone here is glad to see the moisture. We didn't get the huge snowfall that was forecast but what we did get has certainly made a mess. It was just a matter of a few degrees. If the rain we got, an inch and a half today alone, had been snow we'd be buried now! So no matter how bad it is, it could have been much worse.
  6. tbutler
    Ok! So I had this great excursion of air and space planned for this spring in Florida. It was so simple, depart south Texas, drive north, keep making right turns until we got to Lakeland, Florida. Then we got a phone call from Louise's sister. Her mother had a heart attack on Friday, April 10. Our plans immediately took a tailspin into the trash can and we shifted gears. After some discussion I canceled my tennis match for Saturday morning. Louise arranged to get us out of the couples water volleyball tournament on Saturday afternoon. Then I made a first pass at getting ready for travel by taking down the external sun screens and wheel covers. They were all rolled and stowed in the dark and quietly too, it was after quiet hours. The fresh water tank is flushed and filled and I start organizing my desk (some call it a nest) area. The GPS is loaded with the maps and waypoints for the route. Louise began packing up all the little decorations that make the RV a home during our winter stay.
    Saturday morning I'm up early taking care of communication details with family and friends. I check the weather forecast for the next few days along our route of travel. The computer, disk drives and printers are stowed. Then I began the serious work of washing off the worst of the south Texas dust that had accumulated over the last few months. Everything comes out of our small shed and it is carefully packed away in the Trailblazer and Windsor. Then our tables, chairs, porch and other gear that will be left behind are stowed in the shed. Meanwhile Louise has systematically organized and secured the interior of the motor home. Nothing is going to rattle or crash when we pull out. A quick shower and we are out the gate at 6:20 p.m.
    Our route now takes us north to San Antonio, then northwest toward Denver. The GPS has plotted a course that I would never have worked out on my own. Leaving I-10 west of San Antonio, we head toward Lubbock, Amarillo, Lamar and Limon on our way to Denver. From I-10 to Limon is completely new territory for both of us and we enjoy the sights as we keep pushing on to the north and left.
    Our first overnight was a parking area north of Alice, Texas. The next day starts with rain, wet roads and light showers give way to cloudy skies, perfect for driving. Traffic is light, this is Easter and most people are with family. The smaller highways have little traffic. As we near Amarillo we encounter more showers including a quick hail storm as we pass through Hale, Texas. The hail is soft and the rain is hard for about three minutes. Then it is all over. After fueling at Flying J, we locate a Sam's Club parking lot. The GPS said it would be a Wal-Mart but the data must be old. The Sam's Club is new! We park at a back fence. A sign on the fence says "no idling, shut off engine" so we comply. We covered over 600 miles on Sunday. It is a nice quiet place for the night.
    Next morning up early again. The temperature is 30 degrees cooler than the previous day and the tires are all low on pressure. I air tires while Louise makes breakfast and tidies the interior. Continuing northward through the Texas Panhandle and through the Oklahoma Panhandle we encounter some of our roughest roads. I watch the LCD TV that I installed to replace the old CRT. I am pleased to see that it is handling the rough roads with no problem. We talk history, here and there we see an old soddy. Contrast that with the immense wind farms we see throughout northern Texas. In places we see new wind generators right next to old windmills pumping water for livestock. Louise catches an occasional nap, I drive. She can drive and does frequently but I am intent on keeping us moving.
    At 4:05 p.m. we pull into Prospect RV in Wheat Ridge, CO. Nancy has arranged for us to park on a space temporarily until she can put us in a better spot. We won't have a sewer connection until we move. They have turned on the water in this part of the park today or we wouldn't have had water either. We are glad to be parked. Hooked up and showered we are off to see Louise's mother. Seventy two hours ago we were going to Florida. Forty eight hours ago we departed Sandpipers. Now we are living in Denver! What great flexibility the motor home gives us.
    Louise's mother had a stent inserted into the offending artery and is doing well. I hope I'll be able to stand such surgery when I am 88 years old. We'll be here for as long as needed to assist with her care. When Louise's sister and family are able resume caring of her with their full work schedules, we'll salvage what we can of our summer plans.
  7. tbutler
    Here is how our travel decisions occur. As full timers we don't have a home to return to, so none of those pressures factor in.
    We hadn't set a definite date for our departure from Sandpipers Resort in south Texas until today. Several days ago I picked up a message that mentioned the dates for the Sun 'n Fun Airshow in Lakeland, Florida. We were planning to be in Florida for the launch of STS 125 and STS 127. Those are two Space Shuttle launches scheduled for May 12 and 15. The dates for the Sun 'n Fun are April 21 through 26. So I checked out the RV camping facilities and it looked good. We talked about it, thought about it and today made a decision to go. We'll move our departure date up about a week from what we were initially thinking.
    I scheduled some work at Camping World for Tuesday the 14th. They will install a new sine wave inverter/charger in our 2004 motor home. Our old modified sine wave inverter had a few things that wouldn't work; in fact it destroyed the electronics in several inexpensive items. I tried an infinite number of doorbells but none would work with the modified sine wave inverter. We also like our heated mattress pad and we've ruined several of them, forgetting to unplug them before disconnecting the shore power. With several new TVs and an ever-increasing list of electronics on board, the risk becomes greater. Last year the generator auto start function failed so we decided to replace the old inverter. Camping World had a sale a few weeks ago and that pushed us over the edge. We'll leave the bay with access to the inverter open for the repair work and then do the final packing up when we return to Sandpipers for a final night before departing on the 16th for Florida. We will have 5 days to travel just over 1,600 miles.
    Our original plans were to spend some time exploring along the Gulf Coast in Mississippi, Alabama and the Florida panhandle, but we'll sacrifice that for the chance to walk the flight line and see all the vintage aircraft, warbirds and current military hardware. We'll enjoy some spectacular air shows and just visiting with a multitude of other pilots. With the motor home we'll be able to eat many meals "at home." The camping is dry camping which is no problem with our motor home. We'll watch our water consumption and may have to restrict our generator use depending on where we are parked. Our costs will be less than the motel costs alone for someone staying there for the week. After the airshow we'll spend two weeks exploring Florida before we head for Cape Canaveral and our reserved spot at Jetty Park to watch the launch(s) of the shuttles. Sure hope they go off on schedule!
    So now we begin the final push to get everything in the motor home ready for travel. You can really get settled in when you park somewhere for five months. The motor home needs a good wash. I'll flush the water heater before we go. The water filters in the basement compartment will be changed, batteries and engine fluids checked. The tire pressure will be checked and the Pressure Pro sensors will be tested. There are things to be stored in the shed on our leased lot and things that have been stored in the shed to be loaded into the motor home.
    So when we get an opportunity, we are free to chase the dream! Look out Florida, here we come!
  8. tbutler
    Our bicycle rides from our winter retreat take us to many places. We visit a number of wildlife parks that feature a wide array of animals. If you look at a map of Texas and find the southern tip, you will see that it is well south of much of Mexico. Many animals from Central America make their way as far North as the Rio Grande River Valley. As a result this area is known for its variety of animals. We aren't the only snow birds here. Many bird species that summer in the Arctic spend their winters in South Texas. The Rio Grande Valley is a mecca for bird enthusiasts. This is the only place in the U.S. to see many of the birds that are here. These are a few of the places we visit on our bicycle rides.
    There are a series of locations that have been designated World Birding Centers all along the Gulf Coast of Texas. These extend up the Rio Grande River as well. On our bike rides we visit a number of these parks. The Bentsen World Birding Center near Mission, TX is a particularly rich environment for birds and other animals. Javalina are common and some members of our group have spotted Bobcats as well. There are numerous feeding stations throughout the park. Chachalaca, a raucous large bird similar to a chicken, travel in flocks. Catch a group of them at a feeder and you will see some entertainment! Many of the feeders here have blinds set up so you can be just a few feet from the birds and get excellent views as well as pictures.
    Near Bentsen is the North American Butterfly Association (NABA) International Butterfly Park. On a still warm day you can see hundreds of butterflies. You will find butterfly experts roaming the grounds frequently. They are more than willing to share their experience and knowledge of butterflies with visitors.
    Santa Ana National Wildlife Refuge near Alamo, TX, has many acres of land with numerous lakes. There is only one feeding station here and it is near the Visitors Center. Here as well as at Bentsen, there is no automobile traffic permitted in the park. People may tour on bicycle or foot. At both parks there are trams that circulate to take people into the park and pick them up. At both parks there are viewing stands or towers. This time of year, both parks are manned by birding experts who are counting the hawks as they return from the southern migration. Great groups of hawks known as kettles will gather and migrate northward together. We have seen kettles with over 200 hawks at Santa Ana NWR. A special treat this last year was the sighting of several Coral Snakes.
    Laguna Atascosa NWR is on the coast just north of Port Isabel. This is a large tract of land with a large lake or laguna. Many shore birds are seen here and American Aligators live in the inland bodies of water. There is a 13 mile loop which can be driven or ridden on bicycle. The loop runs along the coast for about 5 miles.
    In addition to these, the Audubon Society has several parks in the Rio Grande Valley. Their parks can be toured only on foot but are somewhat smaller in size. Still they have a wonderful array of animals in a natural setting.
    Most of the animals in the album with this entry have been seen at the above parks. Some of the photographs come from other areas because they were the best pictures I had of these animals.
  9. tbutler
    Each season we participate in many activities at our winter home, Sandpipers Resort in Edinburg, Texas. One of my favorites is the weekly bicycle ride. Most of our rides originate as a car trip from the park to a location where we ride for several hours and then return to our cars and travel to a unique restaurant for lunch. In the process we explore nature areas, state parks and wildlife refuges. We also visit cities in Texas and in Mexico. Tomorrow will be the last ride of the season. To give you some insight into some of our winter activities, I'll describe a few of these rides.
    Rio Rico is an interesting town just across the Rio Grande River. In fact, the Rio Grande River used to be on the south side of Rio Rico. At that time it was part of the United States. Now it is in Mexico. The land was formally ceded to Mexico in the 1977. We park our cars on border at Progreso, Texas, and cross into Mexico on our bicycles. From Nuevo Progreso, Mexico, we ride East on a gravel road for about four miles to reach Rio Rico. Rio Rico is a small, poor community. There is a school and several churches. The children are out of school for a holiday and they come to visit us as we ride through town. We resolve to bring school supplies on our next visit to Rio Rico. When we return to Progreso we go to Arribas Restaurant and enjoy a Mexican meal on the patio as music plays inside.
    In the small town of Los Ebanos, Texas is another border crossing into Mexico. There is no bridge here, only a small ferry that holds three automobiles. The ferry is attached to cables and is pulled across the river by hand. Pedestrians may assist in pulling the ferry but usually only the tourists do so. We can get about 20 bicycles on the ferry alongside the three cars. Across the river a two mile bicycle ride into the town of Diaz Ordiz takes about 20 minutes for our group. We ride through town seeing homes and businesses. On occasion we have stopped at a bakery for some cookies. The church on the square has been remodeled and we enjoy touring the building. The priest visits with us explaining that the vast improvements were possible with a donation of a church member. After our ride through town we arrive at a favorite restaurant. Villarta features seafood. The menu is in English for us but the waiter speaks very little English. Service is good and the prices are very reasonable. Everyone enjoys eating at Villarta. We return to the ferry for the ride back to our cars.
    About an hours drive West of Edinburg, Texas is the town of Rio Grande City. We park our cars at the Lacks furniture store on a remote corner of their large parking lot. The manager is friendly and happy to give us permission to park there. We ride across the bridge on our bicycles and then four miles into the town of Carmargo, Mexico. We ride through town to a small footbridge where we cross over a stream and then stop for a rest. Those who want some refreshment can stop in the small store and purchase a Coke or a cervesa (beer). We resume the ride to a small village, Villa Nueva. It was founded after people fled Carmargo to escape a flood. After several years without more floods people moved back into Carmargo. There are large abandoned stone buildings and a scattering of small homes. We stop to visit the school. Everyone has brought school supplies to leave with the staff at the school. This has been a tradition of our bicycle rides for at least seven years. Today the children are out for recess following their lunch time. Children swarm us as we arrive. They extend their hand and say, "Good morning," even if it is the afternoon. A teacher explains that they have their English class in the morning so they know good morning. The principal and teachers visit with us and take us through the buildings. We leave them with a teachers desk piled high with paper, crayons, pencils and pens and many other resources. Lunch this day is at El Johnny, a very nice Mexican Restaurant. Here the menu is in Spanish and we all collaborate to interpret the choices. Everyone enjoys their food. We travel back through town and then over the bridge to the US. Each of these three towns are totally different than the typical tourist border town. There are no shops for tourists here and the restaurants are patronized by the local populace.
    We take one tour to South Padre Island, riding from one end of the tourist area to the other. Everywhere we see the damage done by Hurricane Dolly in mid-summer 2008. Roof repair continues everywhere even though nearly five months have passed since the hurricane. We pause to watch dolphins leaping in the bow wave of a passing ship. Admission to the state park is free for bicyclists. We ride past a beach that has only a few hardy people on such a cool day. During the winter, the town is quiet and restaurants are glad to see us. We enjoy some fresh fish at Dirty Al's. Al is dirty, not the restaurant! Good food at reasonable prices.
    Another trip we cycle around Port Isabel. We see the old Yacht Club now being remodeled and turned into a hotel. The owners give us a tour and talk about some of the history of the old building. A side swing drawbridge takes across the ship channel where we can see the shrimping fleet in dock. At the end of the road we can see the causeway to South Padre Island. Our leader describes the events of several years ago when a barge traveling the intercoastal waterway hit one of the bridge piers and knocked down a whole section of the bridge. Several people drove off the high bridge during the night before authorities were notified and closed the bridge. South Padre businesses were severely affected by the loss of their connection to the mainland.
    These are just a few of our bicycle rides. We enjoy exploring South Texas and Mexico, meeting people and learning about the history of the area.
  10. tbutler
    Despite COVID we hit the road June 11, 2020.  We felt that we would be able to travel safely in our motor home.  In fact, that proved to work well.  We left Edinburg, TX headed north for Missouri.  The first thing we noticed is that there was very little traffic of any kind.  We drove through San Antonio on I-435 and I-35 at the posted speed limit during "rush hour."  This continued as we drove through Austin and Waco.  We stopped for the night at a Walmart in Georgetown, Texas.  A brief visit to the store confirmed we were allowed to stay.  There were no other RV's on the lot that night.  In fact, we saw only a few trailers the previous day, not a single motor home traveling with us or on the southbound highway.  This continued to be the case until we got to the Oklahoma Turnpike and I-55 in Missouri.  Travel through Dallas was at or near the speed limit with the exception of one small delay for an accident. 
    We stayed at an RV park in Oklahoma.  Check-in was at a motel office.  The office personnel were not masked, there were no barriers (plexiglass) so we stayed as distant as possible, wearing our masks.  Fueling was pay at the pump so that required no contact.  We made a brief stop at Walmart when the DEF indicator showed us getting low on DEF.  The afternoon of the third day we pulled into our daughters home in Foristell, MO.  We had them install a complete RV site, concrete with full hookups when they built their home.  It is a rural area and there was plenty of space.  We paid for the improvements as we have several family members in the area and normally spend a month or more there. 
    With family now, we quarantined for a week, talking only at a distance and with masks on.  Early on in the COVID outbreak I started using a infrared thermometer to monitor our temperatures and I also purchased an oximeter to monitor our oxygen levels.  I did the same for our families we were visiting.  Temperature monitoring was easily understood.  The oximeter took some explanation.  My doctor recommended it as a way to determine when to seek medical help if you were feeling ill.  COVID attacks the lungs and when oxygen levels in the blood drop below 95%, the danger of damage to the brain increases.  That would be time for help.  I continue to monitor those conditions today. 
    We left Missouri in mid-August, headed for Colorado to visit our family there.  We were going to provide support for our daughter who had foot surgery scheduled in early September.  We have been staying at a humble but affordable RV Park in Aurora, Denver Meadows.  Office and maintenance staff at this park were always masked.  Once surgery was completed and our daughter was able to fend for herself again, we left Denver.  That was September 6.  During the entire time in Denver we were never able to see the Rocky Mountains.  Fires in the area had us in a smoky haze the entire time.  At times it got somewhat better but then the wind would shift and we were back in heavier haze and smoke.  We even had a small fire break out just across the creek from the RV park.  That was extinguished without danger to us but there was a fire department vehicle parked on our side of the creek the whole time. 
    The next leg of our trip was to Oregon where we had service scheduled on our coach.  We traveled through Utah, staying a couple of days at Golden Spike RV Park in Brigham City, UT.  Again we found staff masked and following COVID protocols.  We had passed the area of the Golden Spike National Historical Park near Promontory Point, UT, numerous times.  Each time we remarked we'd like to see that monument.  We spent an afternoon at the site.  The visitors center was closed except for the gift shop.  The outdoor exhibits were well worth the stop.  They had one of the two replica steam engines out for display.  The engine (one of two replicas) is an exact replica of the original engine used by the Central Pacific Railroad during the building of the western part of the Trans Continental Railroad.  The other engine is a replica of the engine used by the Union Pacific Railroad which built the eastern part of the railroad.  While the engines are exact replicas, they were way to beautiful to look like the working engines that were actually used.  The engine was under steam and we had a nice visit with one of the staff when they came out to release steam from the engine.  We could have stayed to see them move the engine back into storage, something that is done each evening. 
    As our journey continued into Idaho, we could see evidence of the fires on the west coast.  We were once again in a cloud of smoke.  We enjoy the trip across Oregon on US 20 and this was our plan on this trip.  Our daughter who lives in California and has relatives in Oregon advised us to check on the fires as they were near our destination.  We found that roads we normally travel were closed due to the fire.  We made an overnight stop at a rest area near Brothers, OR.  The next morning a quick check of road conditions indicated one route that would not take us too far out of our way to Coburg, OR.  That route took us up and over mountainous terrain.  One stretch had over 30 switchbacks, none too severe and traffic was light so our slow speed didn't back up a huge line of traffic.  We reached I-5 about 30 miles north of Coburg.  As we continued, the smoke became heavier and visibility dropped.  When we parked at Cummins that afternoon, I got out to hook up the power and found that there was more than smoke.  There was ash falling in fine flakes.  I was leaving footprints in the ash.  We stayed indoors until time to check in the next morning.  A day later we were at the REV Group service center.  There we could monitor air quality by how far we could see across a neighboring parking lot.  There were four large light poles that served as markers of the air quality.  For several days we could only see one of the four light poles, about 200 feet away.  Things began to improve and a week later we could see all four light poles.  Then the rain came and the air cleared.  Several more rain showers had most of the fires under control. 
    At both service centers there were waiting rooms and we used them.  Distancing and masks were required.  There were a few people who couldn't talk without removing their mask temporarily.  One couple who refused to wear a mask were isolated in a separate room at the REV Group facility.  Later we learned that COVID is rarely transmitted through contact with surfaces.  It is almost always transmitted through the air.  Still, we were conscious of touching surfaces and kept hand sanitizer with us in the waiting rooms.
    We had a week off from the service center while they were waiting for parts so we drove south to Sutherlin, OR.  We stayed at the Umpqua Golf Club and RV.  Again, everyone was following COVID protocols, masks and distancing.  We played golf almost every day while there.  We also got in a family visit and had lunch at a restaurant in Roseburg one afternoon.  We found early on when restaurants were open that if we ate at off hours, we could be almost alone in the restaurant.  In this case we also had an outdoor table. 
    Once repairs were completed, we headed south for our Texas home.  Traffic remained light to moderate and we made good time.  We left Coburg on the 16th of October and were in Edinburg on the 22nd. 
    We and our families remain COVID free and both Louise and I have completed the vaccine regimine.  We made our first trip of 2021 to Tallahassee, FL for a Monaco International Pre-Rally before attending the FMCA Convention in Perry, GA.  Our summer travels will begin in late May and we plan to be out over much of the same territory during the summer of 2021.
  11. tbutler
    I just finished reading an article in the New York Times travel section.  Titled: To Reduce Travel Stress, Plan Less, the article by Geoffrey Morrison highlights the advantages of making travel decisions on the run, as you travel.  While it is based on travel by plane or automobile, stays in hotels or hostels, and meals in restaurants, many of the concepts are applicable to RV travel.  In fact, in our travels, this has been our normal mode of travel. 
    I know that some people have to have every RV park reserved for an entire trip.  Activities are planned before leaving home.  We seldom plan more than a destination and that is in general terms.  As we travel we make decisions on where to stay each evening based on our location and the possible places to stay that are ahead.  This usually happens about 3 or 4:00 p.m.  If we're looking for a rest area or Walmart, we start looking for possible places within our desired travel distance.  If it is an RV park that we want for the night, we'll call ahead to ensure a space is available. 
    Traveling this way allows us to consider things like traffic, weather and our endurance in each day's travel.  Traffic delay?  No problem, we will travel less distance that day and stay some place within range before sunset.  Bad weather ahead, we may stop and stay near our current location.  Even if the weather is unavoidable, I'd rather be parked than on the road during a dangerous storm.  If continuing to travel longer than usual will keep us ahead of a storm, we can stretch our travel for the day.  With no reservations, we can alter our travel to fit conditions without worry about having to be a certain place at a certain time.
    As we travel, we are always looking for places of interest.  Without a set schedule, we are able to spend a spontaneous moment or a day exploring a park, festival, visitors center or museum.  In Wyoming there are many roadside historical or cultural sites.  Each one is an opportunity to learn more about the state, it's history and people.  I mention specifically Wyoming because almost all of these sites we've seen are RV friendly, well marked large pull outs with easy exit and re-entry to the highway.  They make excellent lunch stops as well.  They are perfect for relaxed travel.
    In the spring of 2016, we made a stop in Hot Springs, Arkansas.  We imagined spending two nights and once assured of our arrival we reserved a site for two nights.  Once there we started exploring Hot Springs National Park.  After the first day, we added two more nights to our stay.  There were more things to see and do than we had anticipated.  We ended up reserving the full spa treatment at the Buckstaff Bathhouse, the one remaining original bathhouse in the park.  Louise and I both had the full treatment then went to The Pancake House for breakfast!  Well worth staying an extra day or two. 
    In 2004, we left Texas with plans to travel the Lewis and Clark Trail.  It was the 200th anniversary of their trip going westward.  We made our way north and east to Louisville, Kentucky traveling another of our favorite routes, the Natchez Trace.  At one of our stops we happened on the grave marker for Meriwether Lewis.  We hadn't planned on finding grave sites for Lewis or Clark but ended up making that part of the trip.  Anyway, that delayed our trip by a few hours, no problem, no reservations.  It turns Clark's grave was in a cemetery we passed frequently when we lived in the St. Louis, Missouri area. 
    We made that entire trip with few if any reservations.  Each day Louise read an entry from Lewis' journal so we would appreciate the travel challenges faced by the expedition.  We found many of the visitors centers and historic sites had RV parking and when necessary we could spend a night in a park to tour a museum.  The relaxed nature of our travel made the trip a delight, one of the highlights of our 18 years of RV travel.
    We did have one serious interruption in the trip.  Louise's mother's health had taken a turn for the worst.  Her doctor told her she could no longer drive.  This was the end of her stay in Lake Havasu, Arizona.  We left Missouri, spent three weeks helping sell many of her belongings, and drove her to Arvada, Colorado where she would take up occupancy with her youngest daughter and her family.  Following that two week delay, we headed north to the nearest portion of the trail in Western South Dakota.  We spent several days in an RV park in Custer, SD then picked up Lewis and Clark in Pierre, SD.  On the return to the midwest we would visit several of the sites we had missed including The Sargent Floyd Monument in Sioux City, Iowa.  Sargent Floyd was the only casualty of the Lewis and Clark Expedition.  His death is thought to be a result of a ruptured appendix. 
    We were able to take on the unplanned event without worrying about reservations or staying to a schedule.  Today we are at my daughter's home with no set date for departure and we are discussing where we will go as we head east to visit relatives.  We'll work it out as we go.
    Do we ever make reservations?  Yes!  Some events attract a crowd, some events are scheduled for only a certain time.  The FMCA Conventions are reservation events for us.  We attend a pre-rally before the convention and that also is a reservation situation.  In 2003, we attended the celebration of 100 years of flight at Kitty Hawk, North Carolina.  We had reservations in an RV park as soon as we had secured tickets for the event. 
    Many people made long range plans and reserved a location for viewing the total eclipse last year.  We chose to locate in northeast Colorado, near but not on the path of totality.  As day of the eclipse approached we changed our plans several times based on the weather forecast.  Two days before the eclipse we left our campsite in Colorado headed for Idaho.  The day before the eclipse we woke up in the parking lot of Little America on I-80 in western Wyoming.  The weather looked as good or better in Wyoming so we picked the general location where we would be for the eclipse.  On the way to Riverton, Wyoming Louise called the Wind River RV Park.  They had a cancellation, we got a site with full hook-ups for the eclipse.  It turned out perfect, we saw the complete eclipse. 
    Que sera sera, what will be will be. 

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