Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Beaman Park Hike

After having done only about 3 hikes so far this month and really beginning to feel out of shape again, we decided it was high time to get back with the exercise program in earnest.  There are several city parks in Nashville, as well as one state park and a rather extensive greenway system.  We have no excuse for not getting out for a nice walk or hike at least three times a week.

This morning we chose to go to Beaman Park.  It is the newest of the city parks and happens to be the closest to our campground.  The land (some 1600 acres) was donated to the city by the Beaman family several years ago.  A “friends” group was promptly established and through their diligent efforts and the help of Tennessee Trails Association, they now have a new visitor center, two paved trailhead parking areas, and three trails on the ground.  Having been involved with a few outings organized by TTA long before the park was opened to the public, it does our spirits good to see how much progress has been made over the past 10 years or so.

We enjoyed a quiet walk today, only seeing two other hikers and a jogger on the trail.  The hardwood forest is still green, but has put on that yellowish cast which signals the beginning of the fall color change.  We saw far more mushrooms than wildflowers.  There were a few purple asters around and one bursting heart.

About the end of our hike, we happened up 4 mounted metro police officers.  Boy, was that a surprise.  Talk about patrolling the trails.  We’ve seen park rangers on patrol, but never the city police.  We chatted with them for several minutes, before heading on to the truck.

We were home in time for a Whitt’s turkey Barbeque sandwich for lunch.  This is a local barbeque favorite and I just love it.  Available in pork, beef, or turkey, we usually get turkey.  It somehow makes us feel we are eating healthy.  Now that I have a larger freezer, perhaps I can remember to stock up before leaving town on our next journey.

Jack and Ansley are coming over to see our new home on wheels.  Like nearly everybody else, they’ve only seen it through the few photos posted on the blog.  We’re anxious to show it off to them.

So far, we don’t have a plan for tomorrow.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Home Again

We arrived in Nashville, the city we consider “home”, about noon Monday.  We are parked, at least for this week, at a small campground just off I-24 in the community of Joelton located at the northeastern edge of Metro Nashville.  This campground is certainly nothing special in appearance, however, it has two major drawing points for us.  First and foremost, it is very convenient to Ansley and Jack.  Normally, we try to leave them in peace to go about their own lives when we are in town.  This year, however, we anticipate lending a helping hand for household chores and cooking after the baby is born.  The second drawing point for this campground is the fantastic monthly rate of just $400.  That is unheard of in this area.  With our plans for Florida this winter and spending some time in the D.C. area next summer where campground rates are higher, saving a little now will come in handy in the future.

With that being said, we still only rented for a week.  We just couldn’t make the full commitment without testing ourselves first.  Our other options were the three campgrounds on Music Valley Drive near Opry Mills Mall.  In the past, we have stayed at both Two Rivers and Yogi.  Of these two, we like Two Rivers better because that campground gets a lot of snowbirds traveling to Texas and Arizona.  We really enjoy meeting these folks.  However, Two Rivers does not offer a monthly rate which makes the overall cost pretty expensive.  Yogi has a monthly rate, but electricity is extra making  that campground almost double the cost of this one.

We have done a little tally of what we accomplished on our West by Southwest journey this year.  We have put a total of almost exactly 20,000 miles on the truck; 8,500 of that were towing miles.  We drove through a total of 20 states with lengthy stays in 7 of those states.  We added to our “See all of America the Beautiful” map Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, Nevada, Oregon, Washington, South Dakota, and Iowa.  Among our goals when traveling is to visit National Park units, state capitol buildings, and state high points.  On this trip we visited the capitol cities of Montgomery, Alabama, Austin, Texas, Santa Fe, New Mexico, Carson City, Nevada, Sacramento, California, Salem, Oregon, and Des Moines, Iowa.  In the National Park category we saw Tuskegee, Petrified Forest, Grand Canyon, Lassen Volcano, Bandelier, Carlsbad Caverns, Fort Clatsop, Crater Lake, Badlands, Mt Rushmore, Wind and Jewel Caves, LB Johnson Ranch, San Antonio Missions, Guadalupe Mountains, Big Thicket, Padre Island, Rio Grande, Big Bend, Olympic, Fort Vancouver, Mt Rainier, and Devils Tower.  Of that group, I think we both enjoyed Mt. Rainier and San Antonio Missions above all others with a close second being Olympic National Park.  Although Lake Tahoe doesn’t fall in the “National Park” group, we certainly enjoyed it immensely and already have plans to return.  I got to add Florida, Oregon, Washington, Texas, and South Dakota to my high points list.  Not a bad year.  Of course, we also got to purchase one new 5th wheel which was nowhere to be found on our list of things to do.

This morning, Gene is off to have the truck serviced and this afternoon we have a little shopping to do as we get settled into to our Nashville routine.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Galesburg, Illinois

Another day on the road has brought us to the east side of the Mississippi River and the small community of Galesburg, Illinois.  This is just about 40 miles west of Peoria.

The campground is an old KOA so it has that look--long pull-thru grassy sites, big trees, A-frame buildings and camping cabins.  It is now a Holiday Trav-L-Park.  We didn’t even unhitch; we want an early start tomorrow.  Two more days and we should be pulling into our site in Nashville.

You may be wondering why we are making such a mad dash to get back to Tennessee.  The answer is simple--daughter Ansley is expecting our first grandchild in November.  We want to be there for her and Jack.  So, we’ll keep those wheels a turning.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Des Moines, Capitol of Iowa

Des Moines, with its population of almost 200,000 is the largest city in the state.  It is located just about in the center of the state which made it the choice for the founding fathers when they were deciding where the capital should be.  The first capitol building was located in Iowa City then moved to Des Moines in 1856 as population grew. The second capitol building was an old brick building and not very well built.  Fearing that building would collapse in the near future, the present, much more elaborate structure was built in 1886.  That building, although renovated in 1905, still serves as Iowa’s capitol building.

It is an impressive building with its hand-carved wooden doorways, decorative marble, and immense chandeliers.  Its gold dome is the largest in the nation.

We wanted to do the tour since they are usually very informative and we learn so much more than wandering around on our own.  However, the mid-morning tour was filled with a large group of 7th graders from a neighboring county.  We finally decided to join the group anyway.  As it turned out, we had a great experience.  Because the Governor was not in his office at the time, we got to go in.  We have never been on a tour where we were allowed in the Governor’s office.  We also got to go in the old Supreme Court Chamber.  Perhaps the most awesome thing was the dome.  The guide took us almost to the top.  I don’t know if these areas are normally included in the tour or if we got to go simply because we were with the school group.  In any case, it was pretty fantastic.
Spiral staircase in the 5-story law library
After our tour we had our picnic lunch under a big oak tree on the east lawn.  On our way back to the campground we stopped at Wal-Mart for a few grocery items and filled up with fuel.  We are ready to hit the road again tomorrow.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

On To Iowa

The grasslands and cattle ranches of South Dakota have given way to the slightly rolling hills and farmland of Iowa.  It’s greener here and, just to emphasize our progress east, we started out in rain, then heavy fog which lasted most of the morning.  The humidity inside the Everest reads nearly 90%.

Today was not as long and drawn out as yesterday.  Surprisingly, we were pulling onto the interstate shortly after 8 AM.  We only stopped twice to torque the tires and would have stopped anyway for a potty break and lunch.  We were set up in our campsite a little after 3 PM.  Not a bad day in spite of the weather, heavier traffic, and nearly continual road construction on I-29.

We are at a very nice campground just west of Des Moines and plan to stay two nights.  Since this is the capital of Iowa, we thought it would be a good place to take a day off from driving and do a little sightseeing.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Moving Eastward

We started our day out with breakfast at Wall Drug in the Western Art Gallery Cafe.  Breakfast was better than the bison burger and fries we had yesterday.  And, of course, we each had a few cups of 5 cent coffee.  Since we had to rush so much yesterday, we took a few minutes to shop around.  I found a couple things that might find their way into  Christmas stockings.

Wall Drug is the ultimate in tourist attraction with its block long group of stores offering every conceivable tourist trinket and a wide variety of T-shirts.  It is not the kind of place we would go very far out of our way to see, but it was fun, especially since we could walk from our campground and it was at the exit for Badlands.

Back out on I-90, it was slow going as we had to stop often to torque tires.  Thankfully, all the rest areas along the way were open and occurred about every 50 miles.  We stopped for lunch at the rest area in Chamberlain.  It turned out to be a great place for a long break.  With its location on the Missouri River, it had a nice Louis and Clark museum.  Well, I say nice, but we could only look in the windows because it is closed on Tuesdays and Wednesdays.

Having gotten a bit of a late start, then loosing an hour as we crossed into the Central time zone, and with all those extra stops, this has turned into a long day.  We’ll be ready for bed early.

Tomorrow will be another travel day putting us into Iowa along about Des Moines.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Badlands National Park

As the name suggests, the Badlands exhibit a rugged landscape.  So rugged, in fact, it is also picturesque.  Carved by the forces of nature, the badlands are a jumble of ridges and canyons.  Too bad we don’t have time to explore.

We left our campground in Custer about mid-morning for the short drive (about a hundred miles) to Wall, South Dakota.  Yes, this is the location of the famous Wall Drugs and after we got settled in at our campground, we made that our first stop.

Wall Drugs got a very slow start in 1931 in a then very remote part of South Dakota.  Struggling to keep the business going, the owners had the idea of putting up signs along the highway offering free ice water to weary travelers.  The idea seemed to work; business picked up to the point that today it is not uncommon for 20,000 visitors to stop on a hot summer day.  By the way, they still offer the free ice water.

Our visit to Wall Drugs included lunch at the Western Art Gallery Restaurant.  Amazingly, or maybe not amazingly, this drugstore restaurant houses the largest private collection of western art in the country.

Next, we headed down to Badlands National Park.  We had heard the best time of the day was either early morning or late afternoon not only for the shadows casted on the landscape by the low sunlight, but also for the possibility of seeing wildlife.  We did see wildlife--pronghorn antelope at a distance, mule deer, and a couple big horn sheep.  The low light of afternoon sun, however, was hidden behind a thick layer of cloud.

This should have been the end of today’s story.  I wish it were.  Here is the rest of the story.

When we were getting ready to pull out this morning, Gene noticed an irregularity in the sidewall of one trailer tire.  The campground  owner felt like it was due to sun damage; Gene thinks it could have happened rubbing against a curb.  In either case, to be on the safe side, he wanted to have the spare put on in it’s place.  Our campground owner recommended French Creek Feed and Seed.  Sure enough, they were able to take us right away.  We pulled in across all the parking spaces at the front of the store and they jacked up the trailer, took off the bad tire, remounted the spare tire onto the bad tire rim, remounted the bad tire onto the spare tire rim and had us ready to go in about 30 minutes all for one low price of $15.90.  Of course, with a tire change, we had to stop every few miles to torque that wheel.  The short drive drug on forever.

When we finally got to Wall and set up in this campground, we turned on the furnace.  After all the high today was about 45.  To our dismay, the furnace wouldn’t light.  Gene discovered that we were completely out of propane.  Two 40 lb tanks--that was surprising.  The campground owner suggested a place for refill and when Gene took the tanks out he discovered that only one was empty.  That made more sense, but the indicator was still showing both tanks empty.  After filling the empty tank, the indicator still shows both tanks empty and one is not allowing gas to flow from the tank and the furnace will still not light.  There is definitely a problem somewhere.

Just a little icing on the cake--our right turn signal on the truck has gone out.  Hope it is just on the truck and not on the trailer.  We’ll test that in the morning.

I wonder what will break tomorrow.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Jewel Cave and Wind Cave

This was a day for caves.  We started out with Jewel Cave National Monument this morning, came back home for lunch and a short break, then over the Wind Cave National Park for the afternoon.

To date, Jewel Cave is the second longest cave in the United States with passageways extending for over 140 miles. Only Mammoth Cave in Kentucky is longer.  Explorers are still down in Jewel Cave mapping out new passages and tunnels every day.   Jewel Cave is named for the calcite crystals which cover most of the interior walls of the cave.

We chose to do the scenic tour.  On this ranger-led tour, we got to see all the different formations found in the cave.  Our group made its way along a pave path, interspersed with metal catwalks and some 700 stairs on a half mile journey into the cave.
The red color is probably rust
There were a few stalactites and stalagmites like you would expect to find in a cave.  The most remarkable thing about this cave were the calcite crystals which covered nearly every surface of the interior.  I expected to see huge, colorful crystals decorating the interior.  I was somewhat disappointed.  The crystals were there underneath the brownish/gray outer layer which was dull and not very interesting.  There were a few places where we saw the crystals shining through, but they were few and usually far away.

After lunch, we headed over to Wind Cave.  They had already implemented their “winter schedule” and were only offering one tour choice.  We weren’t very interested in that particular choice, plus having been in a cave today, we decided to pass.  We toured the exhibit hall and watched the movie about the park.  Wind Cave has National Park status and consists of 28,000 acres of vast open prairie adjoining Custer State Park.  It is where the buffalo, antelope, deer, coyote, and prairie dog roam.  They also have a sizable herd of elk.  We were there in the heat of the day, so nothing was out but the buffalo and prairie dog.  There is also several miles of trail and a campground.

Tomorrow will be a day to complete the few chores required to hit the road on Tuesday.  Mostly, I hope to rest.  After almost a week of going and doing every day, I need a day at home.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Devils Tower National Monument

Devils Tower National Monument, rising nearly 900 feet from its base, and dominating the skyline for several miles was our destination for today.  We had another early morning start for the 110-mile drive northwest back to Wyoming.  Of course, we didn’t take the most direct route because we wanted to see a little more of the countryside.  Instead, we created a bit of a loop drive which turned out to be more like 300 miles for the day.

Devils Tower is a spire of hardened magma--an igneous intrusion.  Rather than being pushed upward by volcanic forces, the tower was formed by erosion over the course of millions of years as wind and water have scraped away all the surrounding landscape.  Today, the top of the tower (1.5 acres) is 1,267 feet above the river.  The diameter at the base is 1,000 feet.
Prayer bundles
Devils Tower, or Bear Lodge as it is called by Native Americans, is a sacred site to the various Great Plains and Black Hills tribes.  For centuries, Native Americans have come to the mountain at the summer solstice as a spiritual quest.   Out of respect for this custom, Devils Tower is closed to climbers during the month of June.  All around the base of the tower we saw prayer bundles left during the last gathering.  To commemorate the traditions held by the Native Americans for this tower, The “Circle of Sacred Smoke”, a granite sculpture by Japanese sculptor Junkyu Muto, was installed in 2008.  It represents the first puff of smoke from the pipe used to pray at Bear Lodge.
Circle of Sacred Smoke

Devils Tower became the nations first National Monument in 1906.  Besides a sightseeing destination, it has become a popular destination for climbers.  First climbed in 1893, it has about 5000 climbers each year.  We saw several climbers clutched to these seemingly sheer walls today.  We were happy to stay on the paved path which circles the tower, well out of the climber’s way.

Also included within the park boundaries are several short trails, including the 1.3 mile paved interpretative trail around the base, a Visitor Center, campground and picnic area.

It was a full day with the visit and our long ride, but we enjoyed seeing Devils Tower.
Tomorrow it is cave day with both Wind Cave and Jewel Cave.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Custer State Park Wildlife Loop

With camera in one hand and a thermos of hot chocolate in the other, we headed out the door just after 6:30 the morning in an attempt to see the wildlife at their morning grazing in Custer State Park.  We were not disappointed.  The photos tell the story.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Harney Peak

Our objective for today, Harney Peak, was a pure delight.  We have spent so much time in the truck over the past two weeks that just getting out for a little leg stretcher was a welcome change of pace.  The fact that the Harney Peak Trail  was a wide, nicely graded woods trail which led to a historic lookout tower on the highest point in the state of South Dakota made it perfect.

Our trail started in Custer State Park, about 10 miles from our campground.  We soon left the state park and entered the Black Elk Wilderness.  After about three-quarters of a mile, we came to a rock outcropping which gave us a clear view of the lookout tower in the distance.  We climbed steadily for the first mile or so, but then lost all the elevation we had gained over the next half mile.  After crossing a small creek at the bottom of the decline, we headed uphill again.  The last few hundred feet of our 3-mile trail was up a rock staircase built by the CCC when they built the lookout tower in 1939.

About half the trail is open to horse travel.  There are some advantages to horse trails.  Generally, they are a little wider than foot trails and they are also more gently graded.  Those are pluses for the hiker, but the heavy weight of a horse can really tear up a dirt trail.  This trail, however, did not have any significant damage due to horses.  There were a few horse “piles”, of course, but there were none of the smelly mire pits that we often see in the wetter climate of the eastern mountains.

View from the top

This historical fire lookout tower sits atop Harney Peak which rises in the Black Hills to an elevation of 7242 feet.  I was surprised to read the plaque on the entrance to the tower which stated this to be the highest peak east of the Rockies.  The views were magnificent on this clear day.  This is a popular trail in this area and there were several others on the peak.  We stayed for about half an hour enjoying the view, the great weather, and our lunch.

Back at the truck, we both agreed, this was a very nice hike.

Tomorrow, we have a few chores to do.  If we can drag ourselves out of bed early, we may drive the wildlife loop at Custer State Park.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Mount Rushmore

A tribute to four presidents and the contributions each made to the building, preservation, and growth of our great nation, Mount Rushmore is awe-inspiring to say the least.  Truly one of the great patriotic symbols of our country.

Our first glimpse was of George Washington in profile along CR 244 as we approached the entrance.  This view of Washington became visible from this angle after the sculptor, Gutzon Borglum, had to blast Jefferson off the mountain after encountering a section of “bad” granite.  Jefferson was subsequently moved to the other side of Washington, leaving this great profile of the first president.

Lakota  Camp display
We joined the Ranger-led walk along the Presidential Trail.  Like most Ranger-led activities at the National Parks, this one was very informative.  The trail offered views of the mountain from many different angles.  My favorite, however, was the one as you come through the entrance with the mountain high above and the state flags of each of our 50 states lining the walkway.
National Park version of a winter count
After the Ranger portion of the walk was finished, we continued along the short Presidential Trail to Borglum’s studio then back to the visitor center for the 20 minute film.

The Black Hills are sacred to the Lakota Indians, so there was a small display along the Presidential Trail.  We stopped, of course, to investigate.  What caught our eye was an Appalachian Trail symbol painted on a buffalo hide.  Gene questioned the Ranger about this curiosity and learned that Native Americans often painted pictures on hides which they called “winter counts”.  At the end of each year, the artist would add one picture depicting the most notable event of the year, thus, as time passed, giving a record of tribal history.  On this particular hide, the artist had drawn images representing the “firsts” in each category of the National Park units.  The Appalachian Trail was the first long distance trail to receive the designation of “National Scenic Trail” by the park service.
Crazy Horse Memorial
On our way home, we stopped at the Crazy Horse Memorial.  This is a work in progress,  and will be for a long time to come.

Tomorrow, Harney Peak, South Dakota’s high point.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Custer, South Dakota

We have arrived safely in Custer, South Dakota after another pleasant, and thankfully, uneventful day on the road.  We continued our journey across I-90 in Wyoming as far as Moorcroft where we picked up US 16.  I was somewhat leery about the 80 or so miles on US 16.  It is one of those designated “scenic routes” which often prove less than suitable for a big rig handled by non-professional drivers.  However, to my surprise and utter glee, it was a very nice road--smooth surface, wide lanes and shoulders, and up hill passing lanes.  The only “bad” spot was the three or four miles through Hell’s Canyon around Jewel Cave where the lanes narrowed, the shoulder disappeared, and the road was quite curvy.  The good news is that there was very little traffic, so none of those things were issues.

There are several things we want to do while in Custer.  Our main objective is Mt Rushmore, which is on the agenda for tomorrow.  Later this afternoon we will make a plan for seeing Jewel Cave, Crazy Horse, Custer State Park, and hiking Harney Peak.  We’d like to see Devils Tower, but it is about 100 miles from here back in Wyoming.  We’ll see how our time works out.  Wall Drug and Badlands National Park are both about 100 miles east of here, so we will probably just find a campground near there when we leave here.

Although our drives have been uneventful, just about every day we have had some part of the trailer break or come loose.  One of the first travel days, the cabinet door in the far back “rear living” area came open.  Of course, I didn’t notice it (I actually can’t see it) when I put the slides out.  It got caught, of course, on the slide.  I did notice, luckily, when the slide stopped moving so it didn’t crush the cabinet door.  It did bend the hinge preventing the door from closing now.  So far, the piece of velcro we ran through the handles seems to be working.  The next day, one of the screws which holds the large day/night shade over the rear window came out, stripping the hole, of course.  If you are an RVer and have day/night shades, you know how tender and delicate those things are.  Hanging from one side put too much pressure on the end cap forcing it off.  We decided the best thing to do to keep from destroying the shade altogether was to take it completely down.  Yes, we had to remove the lambrequin, both top and sides, to be able to get at the remaining screw.  A few words were said before that ordeal was finished.  The next day, I walked in after our drive and discovered the lampshade had unglued itself from around the rim.  Today, Gene discovered a large amount of water in our basement storage compartment.  Yesterday, he refilled our fresh water tank and he is hopeful that the water got in during that process and that there isn’t really a leak somewhere.  Nevertheless, everything in the basement had to be removed to dry in the sun.  We are now taking bets on what will break on the next driving day.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Sheridan, Wyoming

Another travel day and another 275 miles down the road.

I will have to say that I-90 across Montana is a very good ride, especially the eastern 250 miles.  Maybe it is because there is no body out here to drive on it.

We are parked at Peter D’s RV Park tonight.  How could we not with an advertisement which read “Peter D’s has nutritional value.  If you don’t stay, Pete don’t eat.”  Mrs Pete checked us in.  She said that this advertisement has brought in hundreds of customers, many of which bring Pete canned goods.

The RV park is nothing special.  It is right off the interstate, has gravel interior roads and sites, each site has a small patch of grass that would be green if it ever rained.  There’s not a tree in sight.  But it suits our needs for a place to stay for the night between two driving days.  We don’t have a generator so we needed the electricity for air conditioning.  It is better than being at the Wal-Mart parking lot.

Tomorrow will be another travel day which will put us in Custer, South Dakota where we will stay for several days.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Bozeman, Montana

After another travel day yesterday, we arrived in Bozeman, MT.  Neither Peanut nor myself could bring ourselves to get back in the truck today so we took the day to rest from driving.  It was nice to have a morning to leisurely sip coffee and read.
Great views from the trail

We had a few chores to do around the house, of course, and we were in desperate need of groceries.  We got those things done this morning.  Gene had found an urban trail on which sounded like a good leg stretcher.  That was just what we needed after three days on the road.

We decided to do the urban trail instead of strolling along Main Street to get a little more exercise, however, Main Street was very tempting with its many outfitters and other speciality shops.

Tomorrow, we will be back on the road again and hope to get to somewhere in Wyoming.

Friday, September 11, 2009

Hello, Montana

We got another early start this morning; this time just before 8 AM.  We quickly left the mountains of western Washington behind and enjoyed the rolling farmland of central and eastern Washington.  Idaho brought the mountains again.

The 300 miles of I-90 across Washington was a pleasant drive.  Of course, there were areas of construction, but those didn’t slow us down much and the majority of the road surface was in excellent condition.  This same highway through Idaho was not in a good condition and there was a large area of construction on the eastern side of the state.  The road surface further deteriorated as we rolled into Montana.  I hope that is not an indication of the next 500 miles.

Our campground, Campground St. Regis, is a Good Sam park and is very nice.  It is a relatively small campground with less than 50 sites, but very well maintained and the sites are large and grassy.  We are tempted to stay a while, at least one more day, but we must be moving along if we expect to have any time to spend at Mt Rushmore and the Bad Lands.

Tomorrow will be another travel day.