Monday, September 29, 2014

Zip Dee Doo Dah

Import 9-23-14 013We have mentioned in prior blogs that our trip across the northern states included an appointment in the Chicago area.  So after a beautiful encampment in Elgin at a nature preserve, we headed down to Elk Grove Village where we hooked up to a 20 amp circuit along the back wall of a factory.  Our appointment was with Zip Dee Awning Company. 

About a year ago while in Las Vegas, a gust of strong wind had caught our main awning and flipped it straight up in the air; something that isn’t at all good for an awning.  Gary wasn’t at the motor home at the time and I had to get out the ladder and then struggle to get the awning back down by myself.  It still worked, but it was definitely out of sorts as the main tube bent a bit, the arms were out of alignment, and there were some hiccups in the ratcheting/locking mechanisms as we rolled and unrolled it. This Spring, we had one shop in Tucson start to work on it only to see them allow it to flip up as well and then give up on any further attempts to try to fix it.  Another shop looked at this Summer only to say we would probably be better off to take it to the factory.  Throughout the past year, we used the main awning very little as we were always more than a bit afraid that we would open it one day and then not be able to get it rolled back up.

DSCN1630We took the advice to take the motor home and its main awning to the Zip Dee factory for service.  They looked over all our awnings and concluded that with a very few parts and a couple hours of labor, they could have our awnings working as good as new.  But then they proceeded to tell us all the other great things they could do for us as well.  One item was some new rafter arms as they are called that would make the setup of the main awning much easier and eliminate the risk of scratching paint in the process of opening it.  Second, when they heard we had been thinking about another awning over a bank of windows on the passenger side underneath the main awning, they cut down their lead time for manufacturing it from one week to one day just to be sure we would be buying it and not just specifying it for some future order that might never happen.  And when they saw that the fabrics were wearing on our Zip Dee lawn chairs they also had new seat covers made for us within a day as well.  Zip Dee is a very accommodating company when they are growing your work order by a factor of about five.

Without a doubt, this was the right place to have all of our awning work done.  They knew just what they were doing, had all the parts, and gave us some valuable education about a few things we had been doing a bit incorrectly.  But is was another of those two nights of the most expensive free camping RVers can have.

Sunday, September 28, 2014

A Visit With My Aunt and Uncle

DSCN1597Enough of meeting up with Gary’s acquaintances; nah, not really, I have enjoyed meeting all of them.  But I have an Aunt and Uncle who live in greater Chicagoland and as we were in the area, we traveled down to their house one evening for dinner.  I haven’t seen Aunt Patty and Uncle Tom for about four years so it was nice to visit with them.  She made us a delicious dinner and we caught up on all the family gossip.

Friday, September 26, 2014

Navy Pier

river-north-chicago-navy-pier-topFrom Wisconsin we moved down into the Chicago area.  We made one trip into downtown Chicago and it was to the one thing I really wanted to see – Navy Pier.  On previous trips, I had been to the Museum of Science and Industry and to the Aquarium, but I hadn’t been out on Navy Pier.

DSCN1586We endured all the road construction and the tolls to get downtown.  I thought Michigan always had a lot of road construction.  It was nothing compared with all the orange barrels around Chicago.  Interstate 90 is being widened in both directions so there is massive work being done.  But it doesn’t stop them from collecting the tolls even during the inconvenience of the construction.  At one point a car close to us hit one of the orange barrels and it really popped as it wedged under his front bumper.   Because of the sound, we were sure something had blown on our car, but we quickly saw it wasn’t us as the vehicle with the barrel under the bumper cut across our bow only suddenly to eject the barrel off the road and away he went.

The pier is massive.  It sticks more than half a mile into Lake Michigan.  It is called Navy Pier as during both World Wars it served as a US Navy installation.  One of the things we looked forward to seeing on the Pier was the Smith Museum of Stained Glass Windows.  They claim it is the only museum solely dedicated to stained glass windows; many of which were rescued from the wrecking ball from Chicago-area churches and other buildings.


We had a late lunch at the Harry Caray’s restaurant on the Pier.  If you don’t know Harry, he was one of the most famous baseball radio and TV announcers of all time.  He was on the air for over 50 years with the Cardinals, Athletics, White Sox and Cubs.  There are a series of Chicago area eateries that still carry his name more than 15 years after his death.

DSCN1587It was a windy day out on Chicago’s most visited tourist attraction.  Storms were predicted and we had put down our awnings and even pulled in our slideouts at the campground before we headed into the city.  As the skies were darkening, we left the Pier and made the trek back.  We parked in a garage on the Pier.  Although we were only there for a very few hours, you still pay the full 24-hour rate of $25.  Coupled with the tolls and a “celebrity” restaurant, it made for an expensive short trip but we enjoyed it just the same.

Monday, September 22, 2014

Madison, Wisconsin

IMG_1617It was one of those days.  We had grand plans for a day trip to Madison.  We were going to get up early, head out, and visit a large itinerary of sights.  But we stayed up later than we planned, got up later than scheduled, still spent some time on the computer, and by the time we arrived near Madison and had some late lunch, we barely had time to see the Capitol and little more.  It seems we have a number of those days.

Madison does, though, have a very impressive capitol building.  It was far more impressive than the one we visited just a few days earlier in St Paul.  The dome is taller than the one in the US Capitol.  This Capitol houses the Assembly, Senate, Governor’s Offices, and the Supreme Court in its four wings.  There was an exterior observation deck up at the base of the dome where you can see the two lakes on each side of the isthmus of the city where the Capitol is.  After a stroll down the State Street Mall that runs between the Capitol and the University, it was time for the trip back to our campsite in the Wisconsin Dells area.



Sunday, September 21, 2014

Wisconsin Dells

DSCN1543So what are the Wisconsin Dells anyway?  Well, a dell is a valley.  In this case the valley is really a gorge lined with sandstone that was carved by glacial flows down what is now the Wisconsin River.  Tourists started visiting this area in the mid 1800s.  There were tours of the Dells in wooden rowboats back then.  It remained a sedate Midwestern tourist destination until the 1950s when a couple of momentous events took place.  A resident of the area went to a military surplus auction intending to buy some trucks but on a whim bought some amphibious trucks which became the first “ducks” for touring the Dells.  The second event was an appearance in the area by the Tommy Bartlett Water Ski Show which was then persuaded to set up a permanent show.  To this day, both the ducks and the water ski show are very prominent fixtures of Dell’s tourism.


Gary had visited the Dells with his family in about 1960 and remembered the ducks and the water ski show from that trip.  But what is there now is way beyond those two attractions.  There are amusement parks.  There are water parks.  There are go kart tracks.  There are pizza places with fleets of delivery vehicles with moose mounted to the tops of them.  There is a hotel with a fa├žade of the Rome Coliseum.  There is shopping.  There is a casino.  The Dells have become a family tourist destination extraordinaire.



We didn’t take a duck tour.  The water ski show was closed for the season.  We have seen many a river gorge without taking a paid boat trip.  We just marveled at all the kitsch and after having filed an extension Gary got to work a bit on our tax returns.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Twin Cities

After crossing Minnesota, we camped in the St Paul suburb of Woodbury, only a few miles west of the Wisconsin border.  We called to try to pull ahead our appointment in Chicago, but with no luck.  So we now had plenty of time for things between Minneapolis and Chicago.

004Our first full day there was a rainy, dreary and chilly day so what better of a day to take in the Mall of America.   Neither one of us had ever been there.  They used to have cheap air packages to fly from Detroit to Minneapolis for just a day at the Mall, but we never felt compelled to visit but as long as we were in the area on an ugly day, we had to go.  This place is huge.  The Mall opened for business in 1992.  It was built on the site of the former Metropolitan stadium in Bloomington, MN where the Minnesota Vikings used to play football and the Minnesota Twins played baseball.  The Mall has a gross area under roof of 96 acres.  About half of that is retail space and the other half in the center of the massive building is an indoor amusement park.  There are over 500 stores.  Outside the main structure of the Mall there now is a hotel of over 500 rooms and an Ikea.  Many other large stores and hotels are also planned for outside the perimeter of the Mall.  It receives 42 million visitors annually.  It is the largest Mall in the United States and the second largest in North American behind only the West Edmonton Mall in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada, owned by the same Canadian group that owns Mall of America.  We were surprised to see that one of the four “anchor stores” was largely empty.  Bloomingdale’s had left the Mall after 20 years leaving Sears, Macy’s and Nordstrom as the other anchors.  Apparently no other large department store wants to go into that huge space and they will carve it up into smaller retail centers.  We didn’t buy much of anything.  It is pretty much the same higher priced mall stores that you can see in most any mall, except that Mall of American has virtually all of them.  There is a great 360 degree panorama of the Mall in this link:

DSCN1533In Minneapolis, we visited a city park whose main feature is Minnehaha Falls, a 60 foot high waterfall on a creek near where it empties into the Mississippi River.  The Twin Cities are in many ways defined by their waters, with several of those 10,000 Minnesota lakes within their borders.




We also visited the State Capitol in St Paul.  It is undergoing a major renovation and all  the people of the second floor which houses the offices of the Governor have moved temporarily to another building.  As we were roaming the corridors and looking at portraits of former Governors, we came across the one of the wrestler turned politician, Jesse Ventura.



010We caught up with another acquaintance from Gary’s High School days.  We met Evelyn at a bowling alley of all places.  But this bowling alley just happened also  to be a brewery in a nice Minneapolis neighborhood.  We had a good chat over dinner.  It really is kind of cool that Gary seems to know people all across the country.

012Somewhere we read that Wisconsin’s premier destination for cheese curds was not far over the state line so off we went on a road trip to Ellsworth.  We didn’t arrive until later in the afternoon and the day’s fresh curds are brought out at 11AM.  They still had some “squeak” but we should have gotten there earlier for the very freshest ones.  In addition to the traditional cheddar cheese curds, they also had various spiced ones including ones impregnated with ghost peppers, one of the hottest peppers of the world.  We tasted a sample of those.  Yes, those ghost peppers are hot.



Near the state capitol building we also saw a huge and beautiful cathedral. So, what do you name a cathedral in St Paul?  Well, it is St Paul’s Cathedral of course.  I really wanted to see the inside so we stayed on for another day so I could go to a Mass.  You have to marvel at how a church as impressive as this one ever is built.


Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Medora, ND To The Twin Cities

Wow, we need to catch up on our blogging.

After three nights in Medora, ND/Teddy Roosevelt National Park, we were back on the road for two consecutive 300 mile driving days.   As we headed east, we came upon many oil drilling sites.  And this area is just on the very edge of the Bakken Formation, the huge cache of oil that is being released through hydraulic fracturing and horizontal drilling.  It was great to see billboards along the highway advertising for workers.  North Dakota has the lowest unemployment rate in the country.


We barely caught a quick glimpse over the trees of the the top of a capitol building in Bismark, the capital of North Dakota right after we crossed the Missouri River.  We spent the night near Fargo and after paying $35 to avoid the Walmart for the night, we still were awaken at 3a.m. in the campground by a couple’s loud argument.  The sugar beet harvest was still about 2 weeks away.  This area is the largest sugar beet producing region of the country.  Many RVers work the sugar beet harvest as there isn’t enough temporary help in the area.  On the second day of driving we crossed into and across Minnesota.  Just as Oregon named a bridge in our honor, Minnesota welcomed us with an Avenue.


Thursday, September 11, 2014

Theodore Roosevelt National Park

DSCN1386-001We mapped our route from the West Coast back toward the Midwest through North Dakota in no small part so we could stop at TRNP.  It was on our itinerary last Summer when we were in South Dakota but we cut it out at that time so we could visit The Little Bighorn instead.

We are glad we made it here after all.  We had seen that other bloggers had enjoyed it and we did too.  Badlands are basically areas of soft rock heavily eroded by winds and water.  We were surprised that as soon as we passed east on I94 into North Dakota out of Montana that we were immediately surrounded by all sorts of Badlands.


Teddy Roosevelt was a New Yorker who visited the North Dakota Badlands as a young man.  He actually purchased and operated two cattle ranches in the region.  When it happened that his wife and mother died on the exact same day in 1894, Roosevelt choose the Badlands territory as his place to grieve.  He was the youngest President of the United States at 42 and was the first to speak out on conservation.  He greatly expanded the system of National Parks and National Forests.  It is very fitting that this area of North Dakota would become a National Park and named after him.


In addition to all the rock formations, the Park has a multitude of Prairie Dog “Towns”.  We have seen these guys in several places in the West, but not to extent of their presence in TRNP.  We particularly enjoyed these two who we found kissing only to have them step back and exclaim, “who us?”


We only had time to tour the South Unit of TRNP.  There are two other sections north of Medora including one of Teddy’s ranches.   It is an easy Park to tour with a good 35 mile circle road through the Park with lots of turnouts and trails.  In addition to the prairie dogs they also have buffalo herds and wild horses.


Sunday, September 7, 2014

From Puyallup, WA to Medora, ND

We need to be in the Chicago area by September 22.  We decided we would front load the driving so if we have any difficulties we can deal with them and still arrive there on time.   Also, maybe we can pull ahead our appointment if we are nearer.  So we have been moving across the country about as fast as we ever have.  We drove from near the West Coast to the Plains in 6 calendar days including 4 days of driving.  We drove over 1,100 miles.  We know, lots of other people drive far more than 300 miles in a day, but for us, that is almost unheard of.  Why, that is nearly a third of the driving during our entire third year of full timing.

We spent the first night in Moses Lake, WA and already blogged on that stay.  And that was a drive of less than 200 miles.  Upon leaving  Moses Lake we drove over 300 miles that day.

DSCN1311Here’s Spokane, Washington.






DSCN1325And here is Lake Coeur d’Alene, Idaho.  These are the kinds of things you miss when you are “racing” across the country.





DSCN1338We finished that day in Missoula, Montana and spent two nights there.  We had read accounts of fellow bloggers visiting the Smokejumper Visitor Center.  We headed over only to find it closed for the season.  Tourist things start to wind down after Labor Day.  We also stopped in at the Big Sky Brewery, brewers of the American Brown Ale, Moose Drool.  Big Sky may be the only brewery in the country with a brown as its signature and highest selling ale, but it is an outstanding one.  And the best part – tasting was free.

From Missoula we drove over 300 more miles to near Billings, MT.  We needed to refresh our memories on why we don’t like to spend nights at Walmart even when it is very convenient for just a quick overnight.  First, a Walmart truck driver didn’t like where we parked even though we had consulted with their security officer before parking.  The truck driver called over an Assistant Manager to have us moved.  In the next spot we had a lot of noise from the freeway as well as the street sweeping of the parking lot during the middle of the night.  But we were able to keep the car hooked up and make an early departure.

DSCN1383Next was another near 300 mile segment just across the eastern border of Montana into Medora, North Dakota.  We are staying here for 3 nights in order to take in the Theodore Roosevelt National Park and to watch some football.  Unfortunately, Saturday was a very bad day for the Big 10.  Gary watched all or parts of the losses of Purdue, Michigan State, Michigan, and Ohio State.  We’ll report on Teddy R. in the next blog.

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

A High School Reunion

Gary’s high school class from his days in Indiana is a very active bunch.  They have a group on Facebook with many members from the class participating actively.  They have reunions every five years and they have one coming up this month but he won’t be able to attend.  But that doesn’t stop him from finding a class mate 2,000 miles from Indiana and having their own little reunion.

DSCN1307Through the Facebook group Gary discovered that he isn’t the only member of his high school class who is a full time RVer.  Bev King Wilson and her husband Bill also live out of their motor home.  They presently are workkamping at a campground in Moses Lake in Central Washington State.  We needed to find a campground in that area for a couple days over the Labor Day holiday and fortunately they had some available spaces.

DSCN1303We were camped right next to Bev’s motor home.  We had a picnic with her and Bill, her daughter, son in law, three grandsons, their dog Chewy and our Alley Cat.   Gary knows some very nice people around the country who we have met up with in our travels and Bev certainly was another.  Although people in campgrounds tend to be friendly, it is so much nicer to share some conversation with people with whom you have some history.

img_1479We could see why Bev and Bill would like Moses Lake and the campground they are at.  It is right on the shore of Moses Lake which is a part of the Columbia River Watershed.  The Grand Coulee Dam on the Columbia River provides irrigation water to support a large area of agriculture in Moses Lake region, an area of arid high desert which otherwise could not support farming.  Moses Lake and the related Potholes Reservoir provide irrigation on down stream from Moses Lake.  The campground is directly on the shore of the Lake and has its own boat launch.  The Lake is a major recreational site for this region of Washington.

Bev and Gary both said they will be back to Indiana for the 50th reunion of their class.  I wonder if we all will still be full time RVers in another 5 years?

Click on any of the pictures to make them larger.