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We have just completed our trek across country from Missouri to California. We've done this trip many times since we have grandchildren in both states. The quickest route is to travel I-70 west to Denver then jog north on I-25 to Cheyenne, Wyoming where we pick up I-80 on to California. This trip we decided to take a different route. We planned to visit friends in Yankton, South Dakota so it seemed that going north into Iowa and then west to Sioux City, Iowa would be a nice change. Interstate 70 across Missouri is always a race track, loaded with trucks and lots of auto traffic. Avoiding the interstate tangle of Kansas City was another plus. So we decided to drive north on US 61 and US 281 and I-380 to Waterloo, Iowa. That was the first leg of our trip. US 61 is four lane from I-70 almost all the way to the Iowa border. The road surface is fair to good and traffic is light. US 281 is good surface and four lane most of its distance. The only heavy traffic we encountered was on I-380 from Iowa City to Waterloo. This may not be consistently busy, it was Friday afternoon about 4:00 p.m. when we passed through Iowa City. We arrived at the Wal-Mart just off US 20 in Waterloo about 5:00 p.m. I spent an hour or more working on replacing our water pump. When we unhooked and switched to the water pump preparing to leave my daughters home, the water pump wouldn't work. I found a blown fuse, replaced it and it blew again. Calling ShurFlo I found that we would have to send in the old pump to get warranty service. I wasn't ready to do without a pump for a week while we waited for a replacement so picked up another matching pump at a local dealer before we left town. Now I'll return the defective pump for an exchange and have a spare on hand. Saturday morning we drove west on US 20 through central Iowa. Traffic was very light and the highway was excellent. About 100 miles from Sioux City the four lane pavement gives way to the old two lane highway which wanders from town to town, up hill and down dale. That part of the trip was slower but still comfortable travel with very light traffic. On our way, our friends from Yankton, South Dakota called to let us know that I-29 was still flooded by the Missouri River and was closed south of Sioux City. We laughed, if we were on our regular route to their home, we would have been searching for a route around the flooding. As it was, we would not be affected at all by that closure. We took I-29 north from Sioux City to US 50. The final ten miles of I-29 was littered with orange barrels and two way traffic which slowed our travel before we arrived at Junction City and US 50. We spent two days with our friends, sharing our summer experiences. They took us to the Gavin Point Dam on the Missouri River to see the water being discharged from the dam. We marveled at the 90,000,000 cubic feet per second discharge from the dam which was considerably smaller than the 160,000,000 cubic feet per second discharge that was occurring in May and June of this year. The force of water is a spectacle not to be missed, whether from a dam, waterfall, rapids, or waves on a shore, water is awesome. Of course that force is also threatening as the people downstream from the dam learned this spring. We enjoyed dining out at a nearby restaurant overlooking the Missouri River. We went bowling one evening which gave me a chance to try out my new knees. I didn't have my ball or shoes so bowled using a spare ball loaned to me by my friend. By the end of the evening it felt like my own ball! I was back to bowling my average. That was reassuring to everyone as the four of us are a bowling team in the winter in south Texas. By the end of the evening I was ready to get off my feet and ice down my knees. With the recommendation of a neighbor we found a welder to fix part of our towing linkage. One of the two brackets that link the car to the tow bar had developed a crack. The welder was able to clean up the crack and put a good weld on the crack. It is holding well and should get us home for the winter. Then I'll have to pursue a replacement. Leaving Yankton, we drove south on US 81 to US 20 in Nebraska. This is the same highway we were on in Iowa. Right away we experienced several sections of road repair. We were beginning to question our decision when the repairs stopped and we traveled many miles before encountering more repairs. There is very little traffic on US 20 in Nebraska, the road surface is generally good and travel is surprisingly fast. The towns are small and widely scattered so you travel many miles before the next town. Most of these small towns don't even have a stop sign so you can keep on rolling. After miles of crop and pasture lands we reached western Nebraska which has beautiful scenery of sand hills. These are ancient sand dunes, now supporting grasses and trees. As US 20 continues into Wyoming, there are more rocks and mountains. The scenery is beautiful. We encountered a few showers but arrived in Casper, Wyoming before dark. The Wal-Mart parking lot, our overnight stop, is packed with RV's, many are on the way to or from Yellowstone we suspect. US 20 joins I-25 about 50 miles before reaching Casper. Wyoming 220 from Casper south to Rawlins, Wyoming gets us back to I-80 and our normal route west. Rain hit us again on I-80 in western Wyoming and eastern Utah. Louise and I are sharing driving duties. I simply can't sit in the drivers seat for an extended time. I set the timer at 2 hours and when it goes off I look for a spot to pull over so we can change drivers. Louise takes the wheel for an hour then looks for a stopping place. While she drives I have my legs propped up on pillows on the passenger seat leg rest. That coupled with wearing the surgical stockings from the hospital keep my swelling in check. Louise drives the approach to Salt Lake City until we reach the Park City area where the slopes become steeper and the curves tighter. I'll get us through the city and to our fuel stop at Lake Point, Utah. From there Louise drives to our next overnight stop. Near Knolls, Utah is a wonderful rest stop which we have used frequently. Most of the truck parking is on a slope but there are a few nearly level spots at the western end of the west bound rest stop. The rest stop is well off the highway and high above the highway so there is no highway noise. A truck pulls in next to us late in the evening and immediately shuts his engine down. We both sleep well tonight. Thursday morning we are up and away about 8:00 a.m. We've been making really good time and our scheduled arrival in San Andreas, California is assured. We're stopping for fuel as we travel west because the fuel keeps getting more expensive as we travel. We'll grab some more fuel in Winnemucca, Nevada and then head on to Fernley where we leave I-80 for the short cut to Carson City, Nevada. We find the Wal-Mart posted "No Overnight Parking." This is a change, we have stayed there many times before. We continue on south on US 395 to Hwy 88 which will become California Hwy 88. This will take us over the Sierra Nevada. It is now late and we're not going to tackle that highway at night so we find a wide area along a river and park for the night. We are alone and it is quiet. I bookmark this spot in the GPS for future use. Friday morning Louise fixes a fine hot breakfast and we're on our way. Only 90 miles to Gold Strike Village in San Andreas, California. These 90 miles are real mountain driving. We're on two lane roads, plenty of turn-outs and lots of tight turns. The engine brake gets a workout on the down slopes and the engine has lots of exercise on the climbs. We arrive in Jackson, California just before noon. Louise wants a grocery stop so we make our way to the Safeway in Jackson. After shopping and eating lunch we are into our campground by 2:30 p.m. Saturday morning we are watching our five year old granddaughter play soccer. It's just too much fun to be missed. It makes the whole trip worthwhile. We'll be here for a month enjoying both the 5 year old and our 3 year old granddaughters. More soccer games, reading books, babysitting, and just being grandparents. The girls want to know what the scars on my knees are. They trace the line of the scar on my right knee and talk about stitches. I laugh and tell them they used staples. Ewww! Wait until I get the x-rays on disk. They should arrive in the mail next week. That will keep the girls entertained for five minutes.
Our summer has been one of little travel and few activities beyond medical care. Fortunately, this has not been life saving medical care. The medical care was more like quality of life care. My left knee was replaced on June 2 and my right knee replacement was done July 28. As a result, I haven't been getting out and about as much as normal. Exploring has been a big part of our life since we started living full time in the motor home. We've traveled all 49 RV states and most of Canada. Along the way we drive, hike and explore our surroundings. This summer we have missed that activity until this last week. With the healing well under way, I'm becoming more mobile. A fellow camper here at Goldstrike Village in San Andreas where we are staying mentioned that California highway 4 was a wonderful scenic drive into the Sierra Nevada mountains. Having nothing scheduled on Friday we decided to explore that route. Our first stop was in Angels Camp to drop off our water pump at the UPS customer center. It's going back to the factory center to be repaired. Leaving Angels Camp our next stop was at Murphys to top off the gas tank, always advisable when heading into the mountains. From there it was a steady uphill drive. The highway is excellent here with a good stretch of new pavement that hasn't been painted yet. We stopped for lunch at Bristol's Ranch House in Big Trees, a fair sized town near the state park of the same name. Louise had the special for the day, stuffed peppers and rated it first class. I had one of the best French Dip sandwiches I've ever had. Prices were reasonable and we were able to eat outdoors on the deck and enjoy the nice weather, sunshine and comfortable in short sleeves and shorts. Leaving Big Trees we were headed into high country. We passed up Big Trees State Park wanting this to be a thorough exploration of highway 4. The state park is close enough to our base that we can visit it another day. Once we are at higher elevations scenic view points start popping up. We stopped at several, enjoying the view taking pictures and doing some light hiking. The first stop had just a short trail out onto the white granite bedrock. At the second stop we found longer trails through a feature named H*ll's Kitchen. The granite bedrock was strewn with granite boulders weathered from the native rock. I guess you could picture it as a very messy kitchen. We walked around the whole area taking our time and plenty of pictures. This was my first real experience with rough terrain since my surgery so I was slow and deliberate. My right knee is just nine weeks old and I'm still favoring it a little when it comes to up and down grades. I was also being sure footed when picking my way along the trail. Scattered over the landscape are giant sequoia trees which dwarf the tall pine trees among them. Still, these are not the true giants which are found in the state park and further south in Sequoia National Park. It felt good to be back out on a trail. As we left this area we passed a sign for the Spicer Meadows Reservoir on the Stanislas River. Louise asked if we could drive to the reservoir and I agreed. It was a ten mile drive into the valley on a smaller, unmarked road through some spectacular scenery. There was very little traffic and one hardy bicyclist on the road. We took our time and enjoyed the ride. The reservoir is beautiful with the surrounding scenery being truly spectacular. I've seen the California reservoirs dreadfully dry in past years but this year the level was quite good for the end of the summer. We walked onto the dam as far as the Department of Homeland Security would allow, then drove below the dam to hike to a view of the generator housing and discharge pipe which feeds the Stanislas River below the dam. There was a full flow of water coming from the six foot diameter discharge pipe and additional water coming from two active generators. This put out a nice spray which the wind drifted to us from time to time. We enjoyed viewing the resulting river rushing downstream as we walked over a low bridge. After returning to highway 4, we continued on east toward Pacific Pass and Ebbetts Pass. It was now getting late in the afternoon. As we drove the road narrowed and became serpentine. The road was entirely unpainted, not even a center stripe. Signs cautioned snow plows not to continue past the point where the road narrowed. They also indicated permits were needed for vehicles over a certain size. This was going to be true mountain driving. We continued on for about a half hour, passing over Pacific Pass and descending to the bridge over the North Fork of the Mokelumne River. We had about an hour of daylight left. I elected to abandon further exploration so we could return over the narrow steep curving road in the daylight. We had already had a pair of deer stare us down and there were sure to be more as darkness descended. Besides, who wants to drive on a narrow snake of a road in the dark with oncoming traffic. No thank you! We made it all the way back to the town of Big Trees before stopping for dinner. The final 30 miles back to Goldstrike Village were done in the dark but on much better road. We had seen some spectacular scenery, walked among some of the big trees. I felt like an infant that had taken their first steps, I was going to get better and we would be returning to our life of exploring.