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Thursday, September 29, 2011

Northern Iowa


Our trip across Nebraska and into Iowa was somewhat uneventful … somewhat … but not entirely.  Take for instance the Pilot that wasn’t.  There were many advertising banners and billboards along the way advertising a Pilot truck stop …  turns out they sold Pilot gas but were not a Pilot.  Therefore, no discount! …  slick advertising … but we won’t be back!  Did I mention that there are two seasons in Nebraska … winter and road construction?  Both Lincoln and Omaha were loaded with construction delays, narrow roads, and “J” rails (the 102 inch RV does not like “J” rails!

We passed over the great river (Missouri/Mississippi) and entered the twilight zone. …  You’re not from around here are ya, boy?  The folks on this side of the river try to be friendly … they really do.  They saw what friendliness looked like (picked it up from a cousin on the other side of the river), but just can’t quite manage it.  Now don’t get me wrong …  we visited Nebraska, South Dakota, Montana, Idaho, Washington, and Oregon, …  the residents in those states greet each other with a “hale and hearty … good to see ya” type of greeting.  When you cross the river, the people are a bit more suspicious of that type of greeting… maybe it is because Iowa is an early caucus state and they don’t want to be mistaken for politicians … maybe they are too close to the “show me” state …  whatever it is, the folk in Iowa are a bit more restrained (they are strangely suspicious of a smile and don’t really know how to handle a guffaw).



We did meet some really friendly folk … from Texas and working at our RV park.  We give our park at Spirit Lake a 10.  It is a beautiful place with 50 amps, pull through parking, shuffle board, play ground, miniature golf, indoor swimming pool and spa, café, rec. room, ice cream, etc.  We will definitely stay here again … but we must mention that this is a membership park and we are “visiting” members (our home park is in Georgia).  In most parks on the other side of the river members and visiting members are treated equally … not so here … and just to make the point (you’re not from around here are ya … boy?), we are charged $1.00 more for pancake breakfast.  






We noted that people here like their pickups and their cattle … here is a picture of a truck in the Walmart parking lot in Spencer, IA.



One of the highlights of our trip to Northern Iowa was the County Fair in Spencer, IA.  A wonderful location that rivals the LA County Fair in size and scope, the Iowa Fair is typical of the Midwest.  Lynda tasted a deep fried Twinkie (they were offering “deep fried butter, but she didn’t go there … she says next time she’s having it… “) and I indulged in the Triple Bypass Burger  ( a wonderful 1 ½ pound burger with bacon and fixins …  yum!). 





We looked in on the scarecrow judging and saw the winner of the pumpkin contest. 




We didn’t miss the animals either, viewed the winning pigs and saw one of the kid’s horse handling contests.



 One of the best things at the fair was a marvelous model railroad setup that took up a whole room and was one of the most detailed models we have ever seen!  Enjoy the pics:






There actually is not a lot to do in Spirit Lake unless you own a boat … we don’t.  But don’t fret for us … we have discovered a new “sport” … geocaching!  From Wikipedia here is a definition of geocaching:  Geocaching is an outdoor sporting activity in which the participants use a Global Positioning System (GPS) receiver or mobile device[2] and other navigational techniques to hide and seek containers, called "geocaches" or "caches", anywhere in the world.  A typical cache is a small waterproof container containing a logbook where the geocacher enters the date they found it and signs it with their established code name. Larger containers such as plastic storage containers (tupperware or similar) or ammunition boxes can also contain items for trading, usually toys or trinkets of little value. Geocaching is often described as a "game of high-tech hide and seek", sharing many aspects with benchmarking, trigpointing, orienteering, treasure-hunting, letterboxing, and waymarking.  Geocaches are currently placed in over 100 countries around the world and on all seven continents, including Antarctica.[3] After 10 years of activity there are over 1,532,000 active geocaches published on various websites. There are over 5 million geocachers worldwide.

After a slow start we have found 8 caches and a geo-bug (See picture of Lynda with this special find!)!  Again from Wikipedia:  a Travel Bug is a trackable tag that you attach to an item. This allows you to track your item on Geocaching.com. The item becomes a hitchhiker that is carried from cache to cache (or person to person) in the real world and you can follow its progress online.  We are having a great time with this new hobby and getting some exercise to boot!




We would like to stay longer, but have an appointment at the Winnebago Factory … until next time … keep doing what you love.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

North Platte, NE – A Visit With The Grandchildren


From Wall, South Dakota we traveled to Valentine, Nebraska.  Valentine is known as a place where folk send their love letters in February each year for the romantic postmark.  Our plan was to headquarter in Valentine and commute the 135 miles to North Platte, to visit our granddaughter Nina and her husband Brian. 

We pulled into the park in Valentine and went to the office.  Unfortunately, no one was there.  The note on the door instructed us to pick a spot and they would catch up with us later.  We pulled in next to another big rig and set things up.  Our neighbors, Jerry & Terri, were wonderful.  They are experienced full timers and invited us to happy hour.  Good wine, great people, terrific conversation, and some very exceptional olive oil and bread for dipping.  Thanks guys!  We had a great time! 

The park unfortunately was a dog.  It was noisy, with people walking through our site at two in the morning and making noise most of the night.  Our good neighbors pulled out early the next day and we decided one night was enough.  Enough said about a poor park … so far it was the worst park we have encountered … most have been really good.  We review them all on rvparkreviews.com and encourage every other RVer to do the same.  There was no one in the office when we pulled out either … good thing we had prepaid through Coast to Coast.

So it was off to North Platte and Lakeside Park.  It is a nice little park with a very friendly staff that gave us good access to North Platte and our grandchildren.


Quite frankly, if it weren’t for the kids, North Platte would not have been on our list.  As it turned out, that would have been a mistake.  There is plenty to see and do.

Cody Park is one of the nicest city parks we have seen, comparing well to those found in Spokane and other larger towns.  It has a very nice full sized train display with both a steam engine and diesel electric.  When you climb into the engine compartment all of the levers, gauges, and handles are labeled making the experience richer and more educational.  The cars include a mailroom, a caboose, and a passenger car, as well as an historic depot office. 

 The Steam Engine from the early 1940's

 Lynda at the controls ... thankfully everything is labeled!

 Kim enjoying the caboose ... whooo ....  whooo...

The park has a few animals on display and numerous geese around a large pond.  It also has a carousel and some of the best ice cream found anywhere!  By serendipity, our granddaughter stopped by the park on the way back from an assignment and we spent an hour together.

 There are geese everywhere in the park.

We visited the local winery, Feather River, and sampled some very nice local wine.  Linda bought a new t-shirt claiming she “drinks well with others” …  true enough!

 Lynda displaying new shirt and a wine acquisition.

On Saturday we visited Brian’s school (did I mention that he is the new English teacher in Brady, NE … and that Nina is working for the Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services? … Let’s hear it for higher education!).   

Brady, NE K-12 School


Later that day we took in the Lincoln County museum with Nina and Brian.  An absolute must see!  It has displays ranging from prehistoric marine creatures (including an almost intact prehistoric sea turtle), to items from the everyday lives of the settlers of North Platte.  One of the most interesting displays harkens back to the famous North Platte Canteen where locals provided baked goods, milk, and sandwiches to WWII soldiers and sailors coming through North Platte on the train.  On some days they served thousands of men … and they did this every day!   In addition, the museum has outside displays that include a furnished Sears catalog home, and relics from Fort McKinley.  We were there for four hours and could have stayed longer!

 Nina and Brian admiring the model train display.

 Is this car cool, or what!?

 Lynda working the switchboard ...  Operator, may I help you?

Nina and Brian with the Bison, Kim and Brian on the Merry-go-round ... It worked!  Great fun!

 Inside of the historic school on site.

 Inside of the historic church on site.

 Lynda with the giant sunflower in the museum's garden.

We had several great meals with the grandchildren – don’t miss the bacon wrapped shrimp at Whiskey Creek – or the burrito at Margarita’s!  We ate popcorn at Vic’s (this is a wonderful gastronomic experience – I recommend the white cheese popcorn -- thanks Nina and Brian) and pie at Penny’s Diner.  There are still things left for another visit including Buffalo Bill Cody’s home and state park, the Dancing Leaf Cultural Learning Center, and the Golden Spike Tower that overlooks the massive rail yard of North Platte.  We are looking forward to another visit!

Until next time … do what you love!

Monday, September 5, 2011

Gillette, WY to Wall, SD


After a couple of great weeks in Rapid City, SD we backtracked to Gillette, WY for the big RV Rally sponsored by the Escapees RV Club.  We actually arrived two days before the beginning of the Rally to attend RV Boot Camp: a crash course in dealing with all of the RV’s systems (electrical, plumbing, tires, weight and load, hitching and unhitching, fire and life safety, driving, etc.).  Boot Camp was intense and we added quite a bit of knowledge to that already picked up through the school of hard knocks.



The Rally itself was a bit disappointing.  Many of the classes covered the same material as Boot Camp, and vendors, who had an agenda, conducted many of the other seminars.  The vendor show itself was small, but we were able to pick up a few things that will make our lives easier (quick connectors for fresh-water hoses) or safer (additional fire extinguishers).  One of the important things we did was weigh the rig and towed vehicle to make sure that the weight was (1) under GVWR, (2) balanced over the axels, and (2) under the GAWR.  We passed in every category, but are slightly imbalanced on the rear axel … this will be corrected with the installation of our washer/dryer in a couple of weeks.

Unfortunately, most of the attendees were “Campers” …  we are NOT “Campers,” we are “RVers”.  The distinction being a matter of comfort:  “RVers” like and expect comfort and amenities, “Campers” don’t.  Most full-time Baby Boomers are “RVers”, while the beatnik generation (born in the 30s through 1945) is still emulating Euell Gibbons (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Euell_Gibbons)
and eating off the land, so to speak.  They are clearly “Campers”.

We did meet a couple of really nice people, one of which we will see again in Iowa at the Winnebago factory.  We are looking forward to a nice dinner with them.

From Gillette we returned to South Dakota (our home state) to the site of the world famous “Wall Drug Store,” in Wall, SD.  The story goes that a young pharmacist opened a drug store in Wall and was quickly going broke, when one day his wife suggested that they offer all of the travelers on nearby highways free ice water.  He put up “Burma Shave” type signs on all the approaches to Wall, advertising his gift of Free Ice Water and, later, five cent coffee (both of which are still available today), and instantly had great success.  The store grew to it’s current size (it takes up the whole block) and is now run by the second or third generation.  A really great success story! 


The main sign at Wall Drugs

Drug store stretches the entire block


Anyway we met Lynda’s brother Bob and his wife Mary in Wall and spent a really nice day with them before they had to return to Longmont, CO.  The drug store is unique; housing a western town offering a variety of goods from western wear to fudge, from Native American art and artifacts to toys, candy, and books.  It has a robotic T-Rex, stuffed bison, and a large collection of historic pictures and documents.  Of course there is a café with fountain drinks and ice cream, along with complete lunch and dinner specials.  Oh yes, did I mention that they have pie?  Yum!  It was a great day and we really enjoyed seeing Bob and Mary again.


Bob and Mary with "Jack-a-lope"

Robotic T-Rex

Two very cute miners at the mine exhibit and opportunity to pan for cool rocks

Lynda calms the fierce beast!

 Inside of the Western town that is inside the Drug Store

We spent the final day in Wall visiting Badlands National Park.  It is hard to describe the badlands in words.  It looks like an alien landscape in which the remains of alien cities, long abandoned by extra-earthly visitors, remain to remind us of something long forgotten and not yet remembered.  It is beautiful, colorful, and foreign all at the same time.  The Badlands got their name from a French explorer who said this place would be a “bad land to travel through.”  Indeed it would be!  Here are few pictures.







Like most national parks, Badlands has its share of wild life, from pronghorn to deer, from prairie dogs to sheep … and of course, bison.  Big and shaggy and belonging to this landscape today as their ancestors did for millennium!







Until next time … do what you love!