Time to Move From Mississippi to Alabama

Our route includes mostly divided two lane US Highways until we drop down to Interstate 10 where I know the highway to be less congested in the Florida panhandle.

It’s raining outside so this would be a typical time for us to do the laundry, go shopping for food, watch a video or whatever as the sunny warm days are reserved for having fun. But we are moving tomorrow to Alabama for a 10 day stay west of the capital city of Montgomery so that prompted a slight change in the daily activity of this full-time traveler. No shopping or watching videos until a few other things get done such as route planning and pre-packing.

We had been watching the weather reports for the last several days, which is typical before a move. Appears we are lucky in that tomorrow turns out to be the best window of opportunity to move without rain and wind so no need to extend our stay or change the next stop. We have been parked here in Quitman Mississippi for a full month. Wow, that was nice as we had been on the move since last March, never staying anywhere for more than two weeks until now. We are looking forward to St. Augustine Florida for winter where, for only the second time in all our travels, we will be stopped for a full two months.

This morning I completed route planning for our next move. No big deal. Just 170 miles on US Highways for three hours. Check-in time for the Corp of Engineer campground we are moving to is 4:00 pm. That’s way to late for this time of year when the sun sets early. I checked and someone has our spot the day we arrive. Check out time is 3:00 pm so that’s when we plan to arrive. Here is Quitman Mississippi we arrived at the designated time for check-in, also 4:00 pm. We did not fit in the assigned spot and it was dark by the time I finally was able to back-into a different spot elsewhere in the heavily wooded campground. I’ll not repeat that mistake again. I’ll arrive early with plenty of available daylight.

I finished up route planning that includes for me, comparing the route suggested by my trip planning application (RV Trip Wizard) against what is suggested on the Garmen RV GPS. Then I check Google Earth street view for anything of concern. In this case someone had posted in a campground review the road to the park in Alabama was heavily treed with lots of limbs and it was easy to miss turns into the campground. There will be no problem as I’ve even taking Google Earth screen shots on the laptop computer showing the intersections and campground signs as needed. I also have a photo saved on the phone of the actual campground map as so often there is no one in the check-in booth when we arrive. I’ve completed the route planning to the point I can visualize the entire move. Get a 10′ pop-up trailer if you just want to hook up and go without any planning. Get a 35′ fifth wheel that’s 13′ tall and weighs 15,000 pounds and you best not slack off on route planning ๐Ÿ™‚

I rarely plan for any fuel or rest stops anymore. I did when we first started traveling as I felt more comfortable knowing in advance where we could fit this big RV. After almost 14000 miles of towing, I’m comfortable enough with just pulling off the highway where it might fit. On interstate highways there is always a rest stop but on US highways it’s a bit tricky noticing a possible resting place in time to get the RV slowed to make a turn. It is rare that we travel over 230 miles in a day which in my planning would require researching a spot to stop for fuel. We can travel about 320 miles between refueling and it’s my rule we always have 100 miles of range left in the fuel tank wherever we are going. Hense the 230-mile limit (320-100).

Home for 30 days

I should probably get on to how we got here in central Mississippi and what we did of interest while we were here. I have a couple other points to get out first. I’ll add some RV tips later. I should report there are now more than 300 folks who follow this blog. Wow, that is amazing to me. I had only started the blog back in 2014 to record research info and later get comments and suggestions from others during our planning stages for full time travel. Although we occasionally handout a business card to special folks we meet in campgrounds, we do no advertising or pull any gimmicks to attract readership. I go back and read most posts before hitting the publish button, fearing I might leave any political or overly religious content behind which is considered a no-no for Rver’s. Some are really emotional about certain topics. I consider myself open to all opinions but definitely want a chance to state my own opinion. Then we can each walk away and think about what the other said. I hope I’ve been living up to expectations regarding blog content. I sometimes break the rule. I suspect after we leave Montgomery Alabama in a couple weeks, I’ll break the rules regarding posting my view on continued racial tension in our country. My question or topic would be “why are we still having to talking about racial issues in this country”, one of just a couple still under their original forms of government?

I could write twice as much as I’ve been doing. You would be amazed at all the amazing one-time experiences that happen on the road or the weekly lists of challenges. The blog would become a diary if I were to report all the details.

Okay, back to travel… This trip started back in maybe 2016. You read that right, 2016. We were camped in Illinois at the time when an old-timer camp host said he spends the winter in Mississippi where the prices are cheap, the weather is tolerable as are the folks that live here. We moved to this very park in Quitman Mississippi during the first weeks of the pandemic and decided we wanted to return during our fall trip. We stopped at the Dewyane Hayes Corp of Engineer Campground in Columbus Mississippi on the way here for a few nights as we headed south.

Spot #1 Dewayne Hayes COE outside Columbus MS. Harder back-in but we are getting good at it. No neighbors and big yard on paved full hookups. Not bad for being in the woods.
Some travel fulltime in boats. This one spent a couple nights just off the Tennessee-Tombigbee Waterway, on Columbus Lake in Mississippi. Maybe a blog follower will recognize it. I understand this a popular route to/from Mobile Alabama.

Then we moved to Archusa Creek Campground near the small town of Quitman Mississippi for a much needed month stay. We were tired from the travel season, having only stopped for two weeks at a time after leaving Florida last March. Sometimes the destination is the campground itself which is the case with Archusa. The roads inside the park are narrow making the spots hard to back into. But worth it to be in the tall trees of the forest that surrounds the park. We left the kayak inflated and took the dog out wearing his new $100 life jacket with us on the small shallow lake on several occasions. Upon arrival we policed up all the extra firewood left behind by others. Took long walks. Watched the dog run the entire campground loop off leash, which was nearly vacant most of the time. We planned a day trip to Meridian Mississippi located 30 miles north but only ended up touring the local historic cemetery and doing some shopping at larger stores. Meridian is the sixth largest city in Mississippi and of significant historical value as well as having a few modern notables such as home of the father of country music. Meridian has a couple newer multi-million-dollar interactive museums and civil war sites. All in all, I would not consider Meridian a destination spot. Below are a few photos from the Rose Hill Cemetery where apparently the Queen of the Gypsies was buried with family in the early 1900’s. I’ll spare you the history lesson regarding gypsies and their country of origin other than to report a huge clan buried their “queen” here with 20,000 in attendance at the funeral.

The Queen’s grave. Legend has it if you leave something on the grave she will visit you in your sleep and tell you how to fix your problems. Karen asked me if I had a dime but never said the queen showed up.
Back in the early 1900’s some idiot publish an article stating the Queen was buried with gold coins. The cracks on the cover are from grave robbers.
Hmm. A couple folks went cheap and did not buy a concrete vault to hold their coffin which has now collapsed making it harder for folks to mow the grass or walk over the grave safely. Overhead were passing jet aircraft from the local Navel flight school.
Wonder if the kids at the local high school knew confederate soldiers from the civil war hospital were buried under the school grounds? 100 were found during construction and piled into the mound at the cemetery in a mass grave.
I still liked the historic graveyard in Natchez Mississippi more than this one, but it was worth the trip. It is a miracle they were able to terrace the rows back in the late 1800’s with no modern earth moving equipment. That’s a lot of digging to get the hills flat for graves.

In Quitman we simply enjoyed our days outside in the sun and trees. For the first time in months, I used the credit card just once to top off the truck fuel for our next drive. I’d bet it costs a good 25% more to travel than it does just sitting around at the campsite. I’ve got a good start planning our spring trip for 2022 which will be up the east coast from Florida to Washington DC then back to Missouri where we are hoping to spend three months in the Branson area. On the way we will most likely cut up into northeast Tennessee and Virginia. I’m still considering the best route west from DC to south Missouri, probably through Pennsylvania.

I have been hitting the books learning about mountain driving in the east for our 2022 spring trip. I’ll probably describe the process in a future blog when asking for route ideas.
This is just a quick attempt at planning our 2022 spring trip. Will probably go north from Florida to Charlston South Carolina, then through the hills to Asheville North Carolina then northeast on I-81 in the general direction of Washington DC as I’m wanting to stop at a few places on the way. I’m plugging seven day stops into the schedule for now so that I can come up with an approximate date we will be in Washington DC then later Branson Missouri. Then I’ll call ahead and see when we can get spots at those two places and plan accordingly. More on this later.

I’ll close with a couple RV tips. I knocked out a few maintenance items and minor RV repairs while we were stopped for the month. It’s a never-ending thing if one uses their RV enough. Had a 50′ green garden hose that was hard to roll up for years. Finally, the connections wore out so I bought the best replacement which is a 50′ Zero G hose. I cut the old green hose up into sections and put new connectors on the end. Now I have a 10-15′ shorter hose to use to flush the black tank. No more fighting to roll up the longer hose which makes just one more thing easier to do on a move day.

Cut up an old hose, added new connectors. Now it’s easier to roll up after flushing the black tank on a move day. I put the leftover hose in the truck just in case I end up needing to cut one longer.
Quick connects on the black flush a fresh water connections. Again to cut down on time to setup and tear down camp.
While in the basement of our fifth wheel, I took time to check the filter attached to the water pump. It’s the clear cap on the right side of the water pump. When they build RVs they route out plastic to connect pipes to the fresh water tank. Over time the plastic pieces will make it to the pump filter. Check yours at least once while you own the RV. I checked it a long time ago, found the plastic but nothing else this time.

See ya in sweet home Alabama. Can’t wait to visit Hank Williams in Montgomery. Also looking forward to the national civil rights memorial and much more.

Enjoying Fall Weather in Mississippi – Shiloh Battlefield and the City of Corinth

We are on the last legs of our 1500 mile fall trip which will end in St. Augustine Florida the third week of December. Karen and I are really looking forward to visiting our winter friends at Stagecoach RV Park in Florida. Maybe we will make it back to Texas for next winter.

Repairs have been completed to the rig with success and now we are parked for a full month! We have not stopped for more than two weeks since we left Florida in March of 2021. Hint – Mississippi in the fall and early winter is a wonderful place. Good people, reasonable prices and plenty to see.

We spent eight nights in Corinth Mississippi to tour the Civil War sites as well as to take a factory tour where our Vanleigh RV was built. We then moved 30 miles to the service center for suspension work located in Tishomingo which is in the extreme northeast corner of Mississippi. We are fans of the movie “Oh Brother, Where Art Thou” where there is a scene describing how someone can get paid to “sing into a can”. That place being Tishomingo. But after research, I discovered the movie was mostly filmed around Jackson Mississippi. Darn, we wanted to see the film locations.

Our home over eight nights at the Cross City RV Park outside Corinth Mississippi. The owner, Jim, is a southern gentleman for sure. Read the park reviews for more information. Corinth used to be called Cross City because it was the cross roads of heavily used transportation hubs for railroads and the nearby Tennessee River. It would also become the focal point of the US Army during the Civil War in the west after the battle at Shiloh.

Tour of Shiloh Tennessee Battlefield and Corinth Mississippi

General Grant was a washout when he first joined the army prior to the Civil War. Folks thought he was a drunk. He left the army, failed in business, then came back as the Civil War began. He was born in Ohio and had married a Missouri girl who’s family owned slaves which was another reason he was not at first very popular. He had success as a general well north of the Corinth area and would become second in command of the army in the west. His troops moved over the Tennessee River to a place called Pittsburg Landing located near a church building called Shiloh (actually in Tennessee). He was to stay in place until another Union army joined up with him to attack the nearby Confederates in April of 1862. Unfortunately a subordinate defied orders and contacted the enemy prematurely, thereby starting the Battle of Shiloh (a.k.a. Pittsburg Landing.) Grant’s army was understrength and facing annihilation. Especially as he was up against the Souths then most capable general – Albert Sidney Johnston. The President of the Confederacy. Jefferson Davis, was a Mississippian who before hiring Robert E. Lee felt Johnston was their best chance at success.

Grant held out at Shiloh the first day using a series of retreating movements back to the shore at Pittsburg Landing. This battle is where his partnership with General Sherman would develop. The second Union army arrived overnight to join Grant’s. Confederate General Albert Johnston was wounded and died. He was the highest ranking officer to die during the entire war. Beauregard took over command of the Confederates and held up overnight, wanting to take Grant out the next morning. He met a now reinforced Union army and had to retreat about 20 miles south to Corinth. Grant was again not that popular with Union commanders, having nearly been defeated. But President Lincoln took notice, saying he liked the man because he would fight. It’s interesting to note Grant and James Garfield fought at Shiloh and would become US Presidents.

Visitors Center Shiloh Battlefield Tennessee
I asked a Ranger what was the most impressive artifact to him. He says a guy found this battle flag in his attic and was going to throw it out. He decided the museum might want it, having noticed the word Shiloh on the flag. It’s original.
Local citizens got together and rebuilt the church.
Always wondered if the canons were real. This one has rifling in the barrel.

Shortly after Shiloh, combined Union armies marched on Corinth Mississippi which held the only railroad that linked the west to the Atlantic Ocean within the Confederate states. Grant did not like taking and holding cities, believing it was better to draw the enemy army out and destroy it. If the enemy had no armies to fight, the war would end. Holding cities required too many troops.

The railroad – crossroads – are still here in Corinth. Watch out for the no trespassing signs.

As the Union army approached Corinth the confederate army was busy evacuating but had troops left in town and a battle at Corinth occurred. Grant would later have success at Vicksburg along the Mississippi. President Lincoln called him to Washington and gave him command of the entire Union army. General Sherman remained in the west where he became known for his march to the sea from Atlanta. Sherman was ruthless, believing war had to be as cruel as possible or it would go on forever. He convinced Grant they must destroy the resources used by the Confederacy. Sherman’s army then moved through Mississippi, as well as other places, destroying crops, transportation and buildings that might support the enemy army. Sherman’s troops would destroy the town of Quitman Mississippi where Karen and I are now parked. They burnt the hospital and a Methodist Church while in town which was typical and why Sherman is hated.

Located in Corinth is a very well done Interpretive Center holding a lot of details about events leading up to the Civil War, Hispanic involvement and more.

In its time, Shiloh was the largest battle fought in American history with casualties exceeding the combined totals of the American Revolution, War of 1812 and Mexican-American War. The battlefield is among the best preserved having been protected shortly after the war when troop movements were known by actual veterans involved in its establishment.

Governor Quitman of Mississippi wanted to succeed from the Union in the 1850’s. The state of Mississippi was not admitted back into the Union until about five years after the war and had been heavily occupied by northern armies until then. Outside the visitor’s center at Shiloh, in clear view, is a sign based on early 1900’s law warning of substantial punishment should anyone deface a monument. Just last year Mississippi changed it’s state flag to exclude Confederate markings. To mend ways, Mississippi built and maintains the Grant Presidential Library. We have lived in our RV for many weeks in Mississippi between 2020 and 2021 and rarely hear a citizen talk about the war. The grounds of the hospital burnt by Sherman’s army in Quitman is located in view of our campsite. Next to it are the graves of Confederate soldiers wounded at Shiloh and elsewhere, treated in that hospital curtesy of the State of Texas who built the hospital for its own wounded in this area.

Touring the war sites has been educational. Brushing up on the history of years prior to the war has added meaning to what I have seen here. Going back to study the Missouri Compromise, the Kansas Nebraska Act and stories of states being added to the the United States was important to understand. Seems businesses in the north were upset over unfair labor competition from the southern slave holding states. Seems as states came into the Union, for example after the Mexican-American War, and after the line had been drawn whereby states south of it could be slave states, played a role. Northerners for example wanted to gain an upper hand by changing the rules of the time as states came in, taking advantage of a building majority in Congress as each new state added congressman and senators who could vote.

Shiloh National Cemetery. I tried to find the history of Patrick Camberford, born in 1844, with little luck. He is buried in the Shiloh National Cemetery and died a couple days after the battle, maybe from wounds or illness. He joined the Union Army, 18th Missouri Regiment, organized in Laclede Missouri. He would have fought with Sherman’s group in the heated area of the battle known as the Hornets Nest. His unit was also called Morgan’s Rangers. I could not find him in the US Census but maybe his family is the Camberford’s of Platte City Missouri. A lady wrote a book about the 18th which served till the end of the war to include campaigns in the east. I might have to get a copy of that book.

Replaced Portions of our Suspension

While at the service center I had hoped to have the Roadmaster Comfort Ride System installed with slipper springs and shock absorbers. As I wrote in the last post, unfortunately they were not in stock. I got lucky. The supervisor at the repair center had a Morryde SRE 4000 equalizer system which he sold to me at about 1/3rd the original cost. We were even having trouble locating 3500 pound springs to replace the ones that went flat on our RV. Heavier springs could not be had or I might have just gone with 4000 pound springs and kept our original equalizers. We have towed the trailer just about 400 miles since the upgrades and can say for sure going over bridges are less bumpy. Karen thinks the overall ride is improved. I don’t have an opinion yet. I upgraded to heavy duty shackles and wet bolts. At the same time. The Morryde system came with a cross bar that extends between the two center hangers for stability and strengthening. Lippert had agreed to replace our old springs which the mechanic said were about ready to break. However Lippert wanted me to buy the springs first and pay for the labor to install. I was then to send the old springs in so they could test them and if they were found to be faulty, they would refund the expense. Tiffin (Vanleigh RV) really stepped up by taking springs off an axle at the factory and had them driven to the service center. They replaced the springs at no charge and said they would handle the warranty issue with Lippert. Thank you Shawn Cole of Tiffin for displaying the legendary service the company is known for!

Our new Morryde setup….

I also had the tires rotated based on wear which meant moving the fronts to the backs. I had been watching wear on the inside tread of two tires so moved them accordingly so the other two tires will now wear the same. I’ll keep watching for wear and other things to make sure we don’t have an axel alignment issue or hangers that were welded slightly out of place when the chasey was built. I’ll probably get new tires in the next year of travel as I don’t ever want a break down on the road. First time in 14,000 miles or three years rotating.. I assume having the tires balanced might be a way to check for unseen tread separation so might have that done later although during my research I really found no value in balancing trailer tires unless its convenient. Might be wrong about that one?

As we had new springs installed I had pre-ordered some parts that were waiting when we arrived, which is a key to getting out of the service center sooner than later. It’s hard to diagnose the problems and pre-order the parts because you might not really know the problems until the mechanic gets started. If you ever take your RV in for repair, keep up on the status of the parts order. Customer Service at Vanleigh says dealerships not following up on parts, or forgetting to order them, can still be an issue. I’m not sure if it is still the case, but a few years ago one thing Grand Design RV was doing better than everyone is stocking parts just for repairs so they ship them out ASAP. That’s very uncommon in the industry. Heard one or more of the guys who started Grand Design, then sold to Winnebago, has left and started Alliance RV. You may recall the same guys started Keystone then sold that to Thor whom I’m sure wanted the Montana among other trailer designs. As a side note, getting RV parts when needed is harder because of the pandemic and the fact most parts are being installed into new trailers as the factories are up and running now. That added to the issue in shipping ports is not good for those that need a tiny part. We had to replace the entire toilet a few months ago because of specific parts shortages and the only thing we could get right then was a completely new toilet.

I’d read to always replace the U-bolts should they ever be removed, so that was done although the service center supervisor said that’s not necessary unless the old ones look warn. I had some extra heavy duty shackles as I had pre-ordered those but our MoRryde system already had some. So I gave the extras to a fellow RVer who among other things was at the service center to replace the shorter 2″ shackles with 3 1/8″ long per a recall. I did not have he heart to tell him to watch for the tires rubbing under the camper as he would loosing clearance height. The MoRryde SRE 4000 uses the shorter shackles and combined with our new springs we have much better clearance under the tires and the camper is towing more level when hitched to the truck, although it was only an inch high on the front before. I don’t think running nose high caused any of the springs to flatten, especially on the rear axle, in our case but that’s something to worry about if your trailer does not tow level. I did not have to adjust my hitch height as a result of the increased clearance. By the way, according to Vanleigh the minimum height between a tire and the bottom of the rig should be three inches or more. We were closer to two inches before the fixes.

Also had the breaks checked and bearings repacked, all looked good although I had one drum replaced which was temporarily fixed in Michigan when we had a delaying brake problem. I’ve considering having discs brakes installed but our truck/trailer combination is doing a good job stopping the rig with electric brakes. Sometimes, depending on road condition and temperatures, when we first get starting driving I’ll set the truck brake gain up one setting until they heat up and then drop the gain down. Generally they say to repack bearings between 11 and 13,000 miles with a majority of my resources telling me closer to 13,000. I suggest to inspect this all annually or at least raise the camper off the ground annually and try to spin the tires with the brakes on to make sure each is grabbing and that the bearings are properly secured. Do this also if you think the brakes are not stopping as well as they should. Raising the trailer off the ground, pull the emergency brake-away cable and try to spin each tire. Don’t forget to reset the brake-away cable….

We are currently in Quitman Mississippi at a wonderful wooded site on full hookups and pavement until Dec. 7th.

Mansfield Missouri Through the Ozarks to Corinth Mississippi

Image from RV Trip Wizard which is what I use for route planning. Mansfield Missouri is located 45 minutes east of Springfield, Missouri

We pointed our 35 foot escape pod eastbound on US 60 Highway heading for our next major stop in Corinth Mississippi. Along the way we stopped for a few nights at the Laura Ingalls RV Park in Mansfield Missouri. We have been here before and if you are in the area take any of the exits to the campsite that point you down business route 60 over to A Highway. Turns in Mansfield are easy to navigate. The Laura Ingalls Wilder (the Little House on the Prairie book author) homestead and museum is across the street from the RV park. Karen discovered a wonderful place nearby called the Baker Seed Company. Wow, no idea how we missed this place the last time we stopped in the area. It was a nice change compared to the average garden tour.

It’s a small example for sure, but this was another “why we do this” moment. Chickens at Laura Ingalls place that eat out of your hand if you let them. Bet Laura never had the faintest idea others would be living on her farm. Heck, she never drove the car her daughter gave her which is still in the barn today.
Laura Ingalls Wilder museum in view across street from our campsite.

The Baker Seed Company is located out in the country but there is a paved road if you come in from the right direction. The location rests upon a very old Missouri land grant where the company grew to ship hard to get seeds all around the country. The main garden is surrounded by an old town they built.

Sent some seeds to Karen’s sister up north. I don’t miss the work required to keep our own gardens in shape when we owned a house. I do miss our honey bee hives.

A favorite route of ours through the Missouri Ozarks is US 60 to Interstate 55 at Sikeston Missouri. This time we stayed at a quick in and out camping spot in Sikeston called Hinton RV Park. We stayed just two nights, which is a very quick stop for us, and booked the spot just two weeks prior to arrival. On the way south we would drive through the boot hill of Missouri. Had no idea there were cotton farms in Missouri which are seen for miles. I suppose the other times I went through the plants were not in bloom so I did not notice them. Found myself watching video on how cotton is farmed today and history behind it. Call me nuts but I’m fascinated over how farm equipment operates. Later, in Corinth Mississippi I learned more to include economic issues between the south and north regarding far competition. More on that later after we move from Corinth…

I’ve been studying up on the Missouri Ozarks where my family would eventually migrate to from Europe in the 1800’s. Found a college course on-line with about 13 lectures. The professor is interesting and I’m coming away with the opinion I did not know squat about the Ozarks. Karen and I talked and agree who cares that we have only been camping in 22 states. We want to go where we like to visit, knowing yes, we might miss out on equally fantastic places elsewhere. I can read about those in other’s blogs if we don’t get there ourselves. Right or wrong, I’m figuring the scenery in Maine is not that much different than the upper peninsula of Michigan. Some say I’m correct and others say Maine is worth the drive someday. We are planning to head north from Florida up the east coast and take a left at Washington DC for our Spring 2022 trip.

Back to the Ozarks. They are a region that is defined in different ways. Geologist can circle the area of the Ozarks on a map based on their criteria. Some locals might tell ya they don’t live in the Ozarks even if they live in the area geologist call the Ozarks. The Ozark region extends into Oklahoma as well. The Ozark region is a plateau, uplifted from underground similar to places in Kentucky. Springfield Missouri is on top of one of the plateaus and over time water and wind eroded the flat land mass into valleys. In much of the Ozarks those big hills we see are actually what’s left after the erosion occurred. So should the Ozark “Mountains” actually be called the Ozark Valleys? Branson Missouri elevation 774 feet, hillbilly capital of the world (in a Missourian’s opinion) is downhill from flat land Springfield, elevation 1309 feet. Lots of Protestants’ settled in the Ozarks and there might be some that think you ain’t from the Ozarks if you ain’t Protestant. The professor named off towns clearly in the eastern portion of the Ozarks, in once Catholic settlements, where he went as far as to interview locals as to if they lived in the Ozarks. He was told, nope, you have to drive 60 miles down the road to get there from here. You see, another definition of what is the Ozarks comes from the peoples opinions developed over generations and don’t necessarily have to do with geological standards.

There are two mountain chains in the Ozarks, one has eroded down into hills but is way older than the Rocky Mountains. I’ve experienced more mountain driving conditions in northern Arkansas so beware if your path takes you there. Recent upgrades along what will become major Interstate 49 are helping with navigation. US 65 passes through Branson and is no problem as you leave the “mountains” which start in Clinton Arkansas. Early next summer Karen and I will arrive back in the Ozarks where we intend to spend maybe a few months near Table Rock Lake (Branson). That summer time period for us is looking to be important as we continue to evolve into our style of travel. We have never stopped longer than two months and that was only during one winter occasion.

I’ll write later about our time here in Corinth Mississippi where we are now parked. This is an area heavily contested during the Civil War in the west. We have plans to tour places that were closed the last time we came through during the Covid virus thing. We really enjoy Mississippi in the fall and early winter. Good prices, people and places to see. We can take a left from here and head to Florida or a right back to our current home state of Texas.

Almost forgot: Here are a couple videos during our drive in Missouri to include leading up to the Baker Seed Company and eastbound on US 60 Highway through the Big Springs area where folks canoe the rivers.

RV Tips, Info and Rant

I’ll start with something simple. This is a chart I got from a recent RV Travel addition. If you want a one stop place for all RV news and info, just read rvtravel.com. Taken at face value it would appear RV sales are increasing rather than decreasing after the pandemic generated free for all where everyone bought RVs and got in our way ๐Ÿ™‚ I phoned a big dealership I know in Oklahoma who says what’s actually going on is dealerships are replenishing depleted stocks after the factories finally started to open.
Never knew some states are closing toll booths. Wondered what that sign on a toll road in Kentucky meant when it said we could pay online. Then I got a bill in the mail to include a late fee. We only get our mail about once a month. Then in the Interstate 80 area south of Chicago I was thankful the toll booths were gone because it can be confusing to make sure you are in the correct lane for cash payments. Then noticed a sign again that we could pay online. They have cameras that read license plates. I setup an account in Illinois attached to a credit card. They deducted the $4 toll about a month later.
I’ve mentioned in the past we are now setup to stay a full two weeks or longer n state parks and Corp of Engineer parks in electric only sites – and not have to move our rig when the tanks are full or water is empty. This is how I use our 30 gallon water bladder and below pictured electric pump to refill the fresh water. Our blue boy portable waste tank fits in the bed of the truck, tucked behind the hitch for traveling rather than attached to the rear ladder sucking in wind as we drive. Really glad I got the model with nomadic rubber tires. If the dump station is within say 100 yards, I can wheel our portable tank there, otherwise even at 10 miles per hour the tank is no problem being attached to the hitch behind the truck for the journey. Turd Wagon some call it – that’s funny.
Hose from full water bladder in truck that folds up to about a 10″ x 10″ square when not in use. Hose runs to a small $25 electric pump then up to the fresh water intact. Our rigs takes on water that is under pressure, some use gravity to feed in. I’d think a pump is best for both methods.

And now the rant and me trying to be humorous about it. Warning – some say my sense of humor is different and on the edge of acceptability. I usually go back and remove much of the text after thinking it over before posting. Not this time.. Put your seatbelt on and enjoy the ride….

Hopefully I’m halfway through getting a needed suspension repair finished on the RV while on the road. The process is a learning curve for sure. It’s actually a big shit sandwich and all that travel fulltime will have to take a bite someday. I’ll write about the surely positive outcome later. For now I want to pass along good help can be found in RV industry employees who work for actual RV manufactures and handle parts. They are logistic experts and often capable of thinking outside the box. They can be excellent problem solvers.

I used to train new police officers. For example, they would stop a car for a minor traffic violation, hand the ticket to the driver and say – “thank you, have a pleasant day.” I’d let the new officer know they are still an idiot but that’s okay, I’ll teach them. That person they just stopped may have just had the only face to face experience with a police officer they will ever have. The officer will forget about the traffic stop in the next couple hours. The driver will remember it the remainder of their life. “Thank you -have a pleasant day?” Are you really thankful and do you really think they will have a pleasant day? How about just leave it at drive safely and you are free to go. The Police Academy teaches them what to say at the end of a vehicle stop. Some of the training just does not show up in the application of said training.

Okay customer service representatives. It’s your turn to learn. Someday I got to let it go and just let them stay stupid… There are plenty of folks traveling in their 35 foot or whatever escape pods. The folks working in customer service, especially as it effects RVing, have a very important job. You are helping us to experience the joys of life, sometimes after we had difficult careers. What you do, especially when you get a call from someone stranded or away from home with a broken RV is very essential. Yes, you might be telling me there is nothing you or your company can do that is within your normal business practices. I understand and think that’s a canned answer and stupid. But after you say you can’t help me – stop ending the conversation with “thank you, call me if I can do anything for you.” When I want some stress relief I sometimes say – what, now I have to tell you how to do your job? You are asking me to call you if I need anything. Okay, I’ll tell you now what I need which is exactly the same reason I called you for in the first place. Over the last 15 seconds do you have any new ideas, such as who I might be able to call for guidance or if I even understand the process enough to be calling the correct person? Or have a word of advice concerning how the system works from warranty to the repair?

I was a hostage negotiator and spent years working homicides and interviewing killers. I know how to build report and be a friend, I have listening skills, ability to manipulate people, work in dangerous and stressful situations, get a point across to someone for good or bad, or channel stress into whatever path it needs to go down. I’m proud to say no one ever killed themselves with me on the phone nor was there a single incident where a subject was killed by the police when I was at the stand-off. I don’t use the skills everyday now, but at times its been interesting to go after an idiot who thought at first I was a nice guy. I do have compassion but I’m no bleeding heart or one to not try and understand the root causes before criticizing someone. Sometimes, but I believe rarely, I forget about using methods for constructive criticism. Some call this just blowing off steam which can be a healthy thing at times. Others might say, calm down, give the customer service person a break, times are hard. Hmmm,, that’s another two page blog I’d like to go off about but best not. Especially after one does a background check (using only publicly available resources) on the person telling you to calm down and find out they, for lack of a better description, live in their parents basement with little responsibility.

One agent at E Trailer went the extra mile and called Roadmaster to make sure my order was received and to pressure them to speed up the parts delivery if at all possible after it was learned the parts were out of stock at the moment. I had a great conversation with that agent to include how it’s been for her to work from home during the virus thing. Too bad four weeks later I found out the order had been mistakenly canceled. Part of that error came from me being informed the parts were delayed the day after the original order was placed and asked did I want to continue with the order. I had ordered the parts for delivery to the repair center way in advance of my arrival, allowing more than twice the time needed for advertised deliver dates. I initially told customer service at E Trailer to put it on hold until I talk to my installer. Then called back an hour later and said keep the parts coming. My credit card was charged $1,700 at the time of the order so I felt comfortable all was well. Three weeks later I had received no promised email notice regarding shipping. So I called a customer service agent to check on the order. “Sorry” they said, “glad ya called so we can refund the money” or do I want to reorder and get added on the list to receive the parts in maybe four to six weeks. For the record, this is the first time I ever had a complaint with E Trailer.

I believe what happened is there was a lag in the paperwork (email) process and somehow after I took the order off hold the folks at Roadmaster received a notice to cancel it. The final agent I talked with at E Trailer told me how the process works to include I pay E Trailer and they take their cut before sending the order on to Roadmaster. This occurs when parts are not in the warehouse. I checked the E Trailer website and found my parts, which had been advertised as delivery within 10 days, now have a deliver date weeks from now. Long story but I think the background is important and honest. The final agent made the mistake of asking me to call him if he could do anything for me ๐Ÿ™‚ He also asked me to call him after I called Roadmaster to try and work this out. Nope, I don’t have time to train you any further…. I know your asshole was sucking up the chair you were sitting in when I hung up the phone. I’d think you would not want to ever hear from a jerk like me unless you are into those kind of things…. That’s it, the guy is a sick person and went out of his way to make me upset ๐Ÿ™‚

Right or wrong I am of the opinion I owe it to readers to point out some of the bad parts of this journey in case you are relying on me for information. I’m actually dealing with the stress of it better than I would have years ago, especially after getting a call from the Technical Support Manager at Vanleigh who says I’ll not be left behind on my own, he will help me through the process. Thank you Shawn Cole, your reputation proceeds you. You sir have earned every one of the dozens of complements I’ve heard about. You are the face of Tiffon’s model to be the best in customer service. No excuses, lets get this fixed. I like hearing that. Smart move when the company decided your position was important and hired you! Glad you were in the military and don’t know how to fail.

The parts employees at Lippert and Vanleigh have been outstanding. But – looking back in my old working life, I wish I would have known a few others I may have stopped as a police officer were RV industry employees. I would have made sure to tell them to press hard when signing the ticket as there are multiple copies. And end the conversation with “it’s okay if you don’t come to court I’ll come give ya a ride with handcuffs.” Have a nice day. Or, so that’s your dead relative laying in the next room. Wow, they were young. Should have taken better care of themselves. Call me if I can ever do anything for ya.

I know my sense of humor is different. And of course knew it was my job to act professionally. It was also my job to do whatever I could to improve the quality of life for those I served. I trained new officers who, among other calls for service, hated responding to barking dog calls in the middle of the night. That dog barking is causing the neighbor to loose sleep at night. That neighbor might have a meeting at work and getting sleep is very important. The caller may have also tried to talk to the neighbor but that did not work out, as the dog owner is a drunken asshole. I tell officers, when you talk to the owner of the barking dog, be prepared to offer advise that could include dog training ideas or moving the dog inside for the night.

Then I’d tell the officer a few cop jokes about barking dogs to lighten the moment. I’ll not be passing along those jokes to the general public. Darn it, I can’t hold back. I have to tell them, I liked animal calls for service. I can handle any of them in 10 minutes as long as I don’t have to find a black trash bag first. Come on, you know I love animals if you have been reading this blog so give me a break if that last joke was in poor taste.

The best cop joke I know would make a priest throw up or at least throw holy water on me. It’s a sick one and even I will not put it in print. Tell ya at a campfire someday.. Best excuses I ever heard after personally stopping someone for a traffic violation is tied for first place. Sir – I stopped you because you were going the wrong way on a one way street. The older gentleman says, but officer I’m only going one way. Or mam, I stopped you because you were exceeding the posted spend limit of 55 miles per hour. But officer, I had to get a grasshopper off the hood of my car.

Enjoy the ride we call a journey… I’m trying too.

Visiting Family in Missouri – New Dash Camera and Upgrading RV Suspension

We stopped in Kansas City Missouri for a month to visit our daughter and ended up taking a two week trip without the RV to Howell Michigan to visit Karen’s elderly mom. The RV park in Kansas City, Basswood Resort, gave us a good deal on a monthly spot. One of the employees we know kept an eye on our trailer. I always let management know if we are going to be gone longer than overnight. We have placed the RV in storage in the past while taking an extended trip without it. If the price is right, compared to the storage lot cost, I prefer to leave it in the campground.

We then traveled to central Missouri for a wonderful campout with family on Lake Pomme De Terre outside Hermitage Missouri. Site H413 is one of the best in the loop which I reserved about two months earlier. My sister Mary setup her vintage camper next to ours and family came from miles around as they pleased. We celebrated everyone’s birthday at once, enjoyed the conversations and lake front fun. Missouri passed a special tax in 1976 for conservation which has resulted in some of the best, and affordable, state parks in the nation. It’s 7:00 am here at the campground as I type this. There was a storm overnight. Everything is peaceful now. The dog and I just came inside after an early morning walk. There are only six campers in the park, the lake is smooth with early morning sun reflections. Can’t live anywhere better for $20 a night.

Site H413 Hermitage Campground Pomme De Terre State Park Missouri. 50 amp only. We used our 30 gallon water bladder and portable “blue boy” waste tank in order to extend our stay. All worked wonderfully.
Wyatt is now 17 months old. His swimming skills are much improved.

Installed a Dash Camera in the Truck

After more than two years of travel, I decided to install a dash camera for two reason. Of course to capture images of anyone who cuts us off on the highway that could result in a crash. Secondly, after our trip out west in Montana and Wyoming we really wish we had better video of the landscape. Karen can record on her phone but who wants to ride around holding a phone out the window just in case you see a once in a lifetime view.

I began researching cameras under $50 but found I’d need to spend closer to $100 for the options I wanted. This includes a camera that does not have lithium batteries that get hot in the sun. I wanted one that fits behind the rearview mirror, out of the driver’s view. All dash cameras will save video in the event of a crash. This one also has a button to push should you want to save a video such as the scenery. Karen pushes the button from the passenger seat or, as our camera is expandable, I can order a $20 remote button that links the camera via bluetooth. The camera has a WIFI feature where I can change settings or review video using my cell phone. A long USB cord came with the package so the camera is hardwired to an outlet. The power cord was easily cancelled behind the trucks interior trim. I purchased the VIOFO A129 without the rear camera option. I did not purchase the add on power cable that allows for a parking feature whereby if the camera senses something touches the truck the recorder will start.

The camera attaches to a small clip on the windshield and can easily be removed to check video using a cord and laptop or from a memory card. I can remove the camera in order to use a front windshield shade screen when parked in the sun without the camera being in the way. The base of camera has a GPS feature that records the location of videos. For now, I’ve disabled the interior microphone feature.

Here is an RV tip: While planning a route and wondering about the condition of roadways, driving through cities, elevations or whatever, go online and watch other’s video while they drive down specific highways. I’m amazed by the volume of videos out there.

Camera lens is on the other side and is adjustable up and down.
Baseplate where I slide the camera on. I take the camera off if I want to use a solar shade or I suppose to stop someone from stealing the camera. Although my truck has an alarm system and you can barely see the camera from the outside.
Karen saved a video of cloud formations by pressing a button. The camera saves those videos in a separate directory so they are not overwritten by other video.
Location on Google Earth based on camera GPS coordinates where Karen saved the video of cloud formations.

I’ll Be Upgrading our Fifthwheel RV Suspension

If you don’t have 12 things to fix, change or upgrade on an RV then you are not using it enough! If planning for a future traveling fulltime in an RV don’t be fooled thinking buying a rig is a one time expenditure. You will be replacing parts more often than you planned for.

Back in the 1980’s there was a recession and RV sales plummeted with many companies going out of business. Lippert bought up 80 percent of the patents so now every RV trailer on the road has plenty of parts in common all provided by Lippert. Each RV brand manufacturer adds their own construction parts based on their capabilities and buys the remainder to install on their rigs. For example, many buy a single chassis consisting of the frame, tires, suspension, brakes and more. Then the RV manufacturer bolts on their walls, slides, water tanks and more. Televisions, air conditioners, microwaves or whatever are purchased and installed. There are several different companies you might have to contact for warranty work, especially after the first year of ownership. Joining an owner’s forum online for whatever brand of camper you have is a must. Others who own your particular RV brand are the best source for help! When you are researching to buy an RV and can’t find a decent online owner’s forum, for example on Facebook, then don’t buy that brand!

RV repair and maintenance is just as concerning as finding all the RV parks reserved during a holiday. Many have stopped long-term RV travel because of broken rigs which can be safety issues. You better be mechanically inclined if traveling fulltime. We lost our brakes this past year on our fifthwheel while on a trip. I called around and no one could help us within three weeks. We were stuck but fixed it ourselves in order to continue the trip. It’s a hollow feeling to be stuck in a strange place with a busted rig. Getting used to thinking outside the box and going with the flow will be required to survive the lifestyle. Beware however if you become a knowledge junkie and want to know everything that could potentially break on an RV because it’s downright scary. Sometimes I think it would be better to drag this trailer around totally unware that a single suspension part could fail, breaking a spring, losing one side of an axle or worse. I’ll write more about our suspension upgrade after it’s completed hopefully later this month. For now I’ll pass along what I know to date.

Below are a few photos and explanations about what suspension parts to keep an eye on. I took some time to narrow this down. I’ll also mention improper tire inflation is the leading cause of tire blow outs. Get a pump, check your tires before every move.

On a fifth wheel or travel trailer are hangers that extend down on both sides of the RV undercarriage. Use your fingers and eyes to check the welds. There are heavy forces put on these hangers for example when backing into a camping spot. As the trailer turns the suspension pushes on these hangers, side to side. There are add-on components to improve their durability and safety.
These are U-bolt nuts. It is absolutely important to know the torque values and keep these bolts tight. If they loosen at all then the trailer axle will move. If you ever remove the U-bolts they should be replaced with new ones as over time the bolts, for lack of better words, reshape themselves when tightened. It is imperative to check the bolts with a torque wrench when new and after a few hundred miles of travel. I visually check everything at every stop.
These are shackles, and in my case they are the thin ones. Reputable RV manufacturers are now installing thicker shackles, which now includes our brand of RV. In our case, there are bolts that hold all this together that must be lubed. Sometimes you have to take the weight off the trailer to get any grease in. There is lots of discussion on what type of bolts to use, specifically about the type of bushings. I trust Morryde engineers and have to think bronze is best. They all fail over time. Lippert offers a “Never Fail” bushing that requires no maintenance. Well, at least they used to but now have stopped selling them. Their technical support folks tell me they are not sure why they stopped selling them but suggested it might have been a falling out between Lippert and the company that built the Never Fail bushings. Believe me when I say if you are a full time traveler all these parts have a chance of failing because we haul and drive our rigs 6,000 miles a year.
This is a photo where two of our tires make occasional contact with the underside of the RV, probably when going over pumps. Our clearance when the trailer is under load (not stopped and leveled on a site) is down to 2.5 inches on one side. Probably our springs are flattening out. Lippert springs use inferior steel in the opinion of far more knowledgably repair techs who don’t sell springs. All the suspension parts work together in spreading the energy of bumps in the road to various places on the trailer.
This photo is for Debbie and Steve. Some companies are welding cross members inside the spring hangers to reinforce them from side to side. Some who own heavier rigs are buying bolt on beams that run under the trailer from one side to the other between the hangers. Those upgrades have been proven not to interfere with the normal operation of the suspension systems.

I’m doing away with the shackles, bolts and bushings for the most part by having our factory service center install the Roadmaster Comfort Ride System with Slipper Springs and Shocks. Several others who own our brand trailer have done the same over the past two years. I’ve yet to find a negative review. Roadmaster has been building parts for a long time and bought the patent to the system. Some have suggested money would be better spent upgrading to disc brakes but I’m fine with what we have and our trucks ability to help stop the trailer. The Roadmaster system is as close to an independent suspension as I can afford. I’m not wanting to add the better and highly praised Morryde Independent suspension which add a lot of weight to the trailer.

Lippert will want to send out a new set of the same springs to replace the old ones under warranty. Maybe going to 4,000 pound springs from 3,500 would help as well but the ride would be worse. All this after just 13,000 miles of usage. Not to get technical but our trailer brand had a recall where they replaced shorter shackles with longer ones. I suspect that might have allowed for more travel distance between the top of the tires and the bottom of the trailer when going over bumps. I’d also not want longer spring hangers to allow for more clearance as longer hangers might be less durable. Vanleigh has been good to work with and Lippert answers the phone when called. They are a huge company and so far I like their customer service. We can discuss all this in the comments section if you are interested.

Roadmaster Comfort Ride with Slipper Springs and Shocks – Everyone is having trouble getting parts so order well in advance of installation date. We have to double back 200 miles to the Mississippi factory service center once our parts arrive – which includes new U-bolts as we are removing the old ones and you should not reuse them per E-Trailer and others. I also liked the Morryde 4000 equalizers with heavy duty shackles which are shorter than what we have now.

Here is a video with two guys actually riding in the back of a fifthwheel comparing basic equalizers against the Roadmaster Comfort System (previously called the Liberty Rider). I noted there are better equalizers than the stock one of this trailer such as the Morryde 4000 and some say the newer Lippert Road Armor. Here is an E-Trailer video review. Additional E-Trailer information can be found at this link.

One word of caution if you decide to start replacing suspension components when the trailer is still under the Lippert three year frame warranty. They may deny a warranty claim if Lippert parts were not installed. We will have four months left on our frame warranty when we start changing suspension components.

I can see why dealerships have trouble getting parts which delays RV repairs, sometimes for months. It was a nightmare to negotiate the process of identifying what parts I’m having delivered to the repair center in advance. I suggest if you order parts that you compare them against images of what is already on the trailer as there are slight, but important differences. In my case Lippert suggested I order a kit to replace the U-bolts which I noted have flanged nuts. I was worried flanged nuts require a different torque value than what we have now which is nuts with washers. Vanleigh has a parts person one can call who knows everything about what’s on our particular rig and told me what to buy.

In my humble opinion, no one builds an RV for fulltime travel. Some just build better rigs than the others with parts that hold up better with extreme usage. That’s why they are called recreational vehicles, built to stay together through the one year warranty period and good enough to keep the government from regulating their business. And also for what people are willing to spend. I’ll bet a lot of rigs are sold because of floor plan and what the customer can see when they walk in. I can tell you, for sure with less expensive toy haulers, not many get underneath and look at the suspension in detail. As a new customer I knew very little myself. Costs money to go to college! Paying for trailer repairs and upgrades sure has taught me a few things. As well as good neighbors who don’t think it’s strange when I ask to climb under their rigs to see if anyone is using better suspension parts compared to even 2019 when we bought ours.

We are currently parked in southern Missouri and will be heading to Laura Ingles Campground east of Springfield Missouri.

Abilene Kansas – Visit Dwight Eisenhower and More

From Scotts Bluff Nebraska we went east on Interstate 80, turned south from North Platte Nebraska to US 36 (the Pony Express Route) then eventually went south to I 70 at Hays Kansas, eastward to Abilene. Don’t be fooled, there is plenty to see in Kansas.

Drive from Scotts Bluff Nebraska to Abilene Kansas

Why Abilene Kansas? Because we have taken a more northern route in the past over US Highway 36 from St. Joseph Missouri through Kansas and this time we wanted to see roads we have not traveled while Rving. If we were eventually headed over I-70 towards Kansas City, why not stop and see the President Dwight Eisenhower exhibits in Abilene. Pay our respects to the man, not only because he lead the country through WW2 in Europe but because he was the father of the US Interstate System that we all now enjoy from our RVs. If I recall the stories correctly, Eisenhower was impressed with the German Army’s usage of highway systems to quickly move their troops from battlefield to battlefield. He pushed for an improved interstate system here in the United States for both military and commercial usage. I’d read where interstates had to be designed in a way that aircraft could land on them every so many miles of roadway.

From Scotts Bluff Nebraska we stayed at two locations we have camped at in the past. One in Ogallala Nebraska and then on the high prairie near Norton Kansas at Prairie Dog State Park.

We love Prairie Dog State Park in Norton Kansas because the area is secluded. The reservoir with surrounding trees is an oasis among the tall grassland prairie. They have a conventional RV park and then several areas scattered out in more remote areas. Among which are six grass RV spots overlooking the landscape. We camped in site 304 which was 50 amp and water but a little hard to level the RV. Last visit we stayed in site 302 with only 30 amp and water but was easier to level the RV.

We had a great drive along I-80 with no wind. We did not stop at North Platte Nebraska but had considered a day trip to see the home of Buffalo Bill Cody. I’m not sure why Wyoming thinks they can make such a big deal of Buffalo Bill being a local legend. He is actually more from Kansas where he got his start on the Pony Express, Stagecoaches, working with the railroad and army. His parents had moved the family to Leavenworth (Kansas Territory) from Iowa.

We also did not stop to see anything in Hays Kansas where there is a lot of roadwork just before an I-70 on-ramp that will include the wildest ride through several roundabouts. You know, those roadways they install which supposedly help with traffic flow and reduce the number of stoplights! I’ve gotten to the point when we come up to a two lane roundabout I tow the trailer down the center, taking up most of the space in both lanes thereby leaving enough room on the sides of the trailer in case we need to turn left or right. I do my best never to allow more than four feet of room to the side of me when I’m taking up an extra lane, thereby preventing any cars from thinking they can pass me in the narrowed lanes. If you tow/drive a large RV I’m sure you understand the concept of taking up more roadway to make sure you can take a curve without hitting the curb and damaging tire sidewalls.

If you are planning a drive across I-70 through Kansas then do some research about the Flint Hills. I’m getting ahead of myself, but want to pass along the interstate through the State Capital in Topeka is no big deal other than a tight curve where there are warning signs well in advance. We would later pay about $6 at the toll booth east of Topeka towards Kansas City. The turnpike roadway is very smooth with places to stop for food or fuel. But – 70 miles west of Topeka is perhaps the best stop on the route – Abilene!

Abilene Kansas – Boyhood Home of President Dwight Eisenhower

We camped for a week at Walt’s Four Season Campground in Abilene. Nice camp store, to include meats. Plenty to do with a large swimming pool and miniature golf. Karen and I prefer to stay home at least every other day and see the sites outside the campground once we are well rested. Personally, I don’t like having anything on my calendar two days in a row. For Gods sake I’m retired!

Two feathery friends that quickly figure out which campers will feed them. One morning I got up to find them taking a bath in our dog Wyatt’s water dish. I turned the outside faucet on for a few minutes so the ducks could finish their shower.

A couple months prior to arrival I found out the Dwight Eisenhower complex was closed due to the pandemic. At the same time President Beidon had also issued mask mandates for federal property which are within any area where they have a breakout infection. Well, one day after the “mask mandate” we were in the middle of nowhere Montana at a national monument and had to wear a mask inside the visitor’s center. The locals had not heard anything about a virus breakout. When we arrived later in Abilene we found the Eisenhower exhibit still closed with not even the chapel where he is buried being open for limited viewing. I thought, why the heck did I get vaccinated with an experimental drug back in April if I now can’t even stand over a president’s grave? The grounds are owned by the federal government. The entire town was open for business, but not the federal site. This is the fifth time since January 2021 we have experienced a closed federal facility when everything around it was open.

When Dwight Eisenhower decided to run for president, both the republican and democratic parties asked him to run on their ticket. He was that popular with the American people. Now I can’t get in the church to pay my respects at his graveside. I told another visitor, while standing outside the church door, that I could get a pry bar out of my truck if he would watch for the park ranger ๐Ÿ™‚ The ranger must have been on break. I went looking for him and his key to get in. The fed’s spent over two million dollars during the pandemic renovating parts of the facility. No one has been able to see the results. Hope the workers did not get COVID. Oh well, there was plenty to see outside the buildings and the dog had a good time walking in the large areas of grass.

President Eisenhower is buried inside with his wife and son.
Through a crack in the the door of the chapel I was able to snap a photo with my phone. No – I did not use a pry bar. From research I knew which side of the chapel the President was buried on so I went to that corner outside for a moment of silence.

So having been upset the Feds, or at least some high-ranking asshole, believing the buildings should be shut down at the Eisenhower facility, I needed a way to get past the stress of it. Russell Stover Candy to the rescue. The business is based in Kansas City Missouri and has two factories in Kansas, one of which is in Abilene. Everything is about half off the retail prices and even more if you buy a bag of candy that did not come out right on the factory line. Even the ice cream with chunks of chocolate was different than I’ve ever had. The next day, Karen rode with me back to the Russell Stover Candy factory to make sure I developed diabetes. They have RV and bus parking so don’t miss it if you come down I-70.

Dickinson County Historical Museum and Independent Telephony Exhibits

In the same area of town as the Eisenhower facility are several other things to do. I visited the Greyhound (Dog) Hall of Fame, there is a train exhibit to include taking a ride, old Abilene buildings and the Dickinson County Museum.

Within the Dickinson County Museum is something for everyone to include the kids. On the grounds are many buildings that were moved to the location to include an enclosed carousel, like they have at carnivals. This carousel is actually a registered national landmark anyone can ride if you ask them to turn it on. The county museum is well worth the $7 admittance fee. Check out the photos below:

On the right side of screen is a quarter to judge the size of this tooth.
Probably should not let the dog chase the chickens.
A huge building full of antique farm equipment
Dozens of antique containers inside the old store.
Working lumber mill. Powered by a belt attached to a tractor.
Belt driven blacksmith shop

History of the Telephone

A large portion of the Dickinson County Museum included the history of the telephone. In the late 1800’s Alexander Bell’s patents ran out. Small independent phone companies sprang up to include Dickinson County’s Brown Telephone. This small company would grow into what we know today as Sprint. I worked for the company at one time in Corporate Security. I had always wanted the chance to visit Abilene just to see the phone history.

Like so many other’s at Sprint, I really respected Chairman Paul Henson. He retired and a new Chairman took over at which time the corporate culture changed. Once early in the morning I was walking down the hallway where the top executives have their offices in Westwood Kansas (suburb of KC). It was not uncommon for Paul to be in the office well before the building opened for general business. He was supposed to be in Europe with his wife and there was noise coming from his office. I walked in as Paul was coming out of the bathroom located in his office. He was suffering from cancer and I could tell was not having a good morning. We talked. He was always approachable. I believe he created the term “open door policy” meaning any employee was welcome to talk to anyone in the company despite their position, to include bringing up complaints. I asked why he was not in Europe with his wife Betty. He joked and then said he missed work. Knowing he was under doctor’s orders to work half days I asked if he was going to be okay and added he should take the time off. Paul gave me some of the best advise I ever received regarding work. He said people should work at jobs they would do without pay. He said that was why he was in the office. Well, that advise stuck. I had been working as a part-time police officer. Later I left the corporate world for a job I loved so much I’d do it without pay and became a fulltime cop.

Mr. Henson was a fine person. He was totally against laying anyone off within the huge corporation, preferring to make sure the job was absolutely needed before anyone was hired into a position. His vision of the telecommunication industry forged the technology we all enjoy today. I recall his speech to employees at what would be his last company Christmas party. In the room full of hundreds Henson talked about telecommunications and its future. He had already bet the farm on the world’s largest fiber optics network. Having clearance to corporate labs because of my position in security, I knew what they were working on and a few potential applications. Paul described the amazing future of the industry in what some thought were impossible expectations. I had been asked to give him a ride back to headquarters so he could met up with his buddy Charlie Brown, the AT&T Chairman. The two took trips together bird hunting every year, often leaving after the Christmas party. I had been standing on the sidelines waiting for him to finish his annual speech and overheard a conversation where one employee commented the cancer must be effecting the Chairman’s mind saying what Paul was describing seemed impossible and that his speech was not well organized. I knew the Chairman did not feel well but powered through the speech. We got back to headquarters where he livened up, moving his shotgun from the trunk of the Cadillac to a rental SUV Mr. Brown was driving. The two left on their hunting trip. This was another fawn memory of Paul I had. You see he always acted like the common man, at least around employees at my level. Years later wireless broadband became part of our everyday technology. And like Paul said, accessible from a handheld devise we call cell phones. Paul passed away. It was good to see his photo among the others at the history museum.

For my friends at Sprint I recorded a walk through the museum. I want to also take this time to say it should have been Sprint acquiring T-Mobile, not the other way around. Executive management after Paul just was not up to the task. I’m sure they have excuses why Sprint did not do better but I’ll not be excepting those excuses. The culture changed for the worst. In his retirement office at the Corinth building, before I left the company, I used the open door policy one more time and told Mr. Henson I noticed the culture change and named the man I thought responsible. Paul was gracious, even though I had criticized one of his decisions in hiring a person. He said he was no longer the Chairman and made the best decision he could at the time. I feel honored to have known the man for any length of time. I was a lowly employee that got lucky to have had access to the wisdom of a better man.

Here are some interesting photos from the museum:

Brown Telephone of Abilene would become United Telephone/Telecom. Then after a partnership out of Texas would have a name change to Sprint
Old truck with United Telephone of Indiana printed on the side.
Paul worked his way up in the company becoming President at the age of 38.

For more amazing and unexpected history of the company started by Brown and the man’s history read this article.

More information about Paul Henson. His death was reported in the New York Times and Wall Street Journal. More importantly, he is missed by thousands.

We are currently stopped near Platte City Missouri for a month visiting family. Karen and I will be taking a short trip without the RV to Michigan to see her elderly mother. Then on to our fall trip through Mississippi and eventually Florida.

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Scotts Bluff Nebraska

What drives our urge to visit locations of national wonders and history? Could it be seeking a reason for individual existence beyond love or being a character within the story of anotherโ€™s life experience? Could these places link us to the creation of earth itself, the history of mankind and plant the DNA of our own existence, scattered wherever we touch?

I found myself sitting outside in view of the national monument at Scotts Bluff Nebraska in quiet moments of thought. What have I been getting from our travels to historic landmarks? The sheer size of the landscape is impressive. We all know you canโ€™t take a picture that does a view justice.   You must be here using all your senses to take it in. Something as little as hearing the patterns of blowing winds.  Catching the stray smell of wet rock near a meadow of flowers. Looking as the view fades to a blurry tunnel on the horizon, miles beyond where you are standing. Finally leaning against a boulder millions of years old. Drinking a bottle of iced water, having lunch after an exhilarating climb to an elevated place or down into a valley at the center point of the experience.

Scientists believe earth was created about four billion years ago. The bible and geological processes explain the creation. It was finally determined that Yellowstone National Park sits upon a super volcano that has had a large-scale eruption at least three times. The volcano stays put as the earth above moves as part of plate tectonics. This super volcano has had a massive eruption on average about every 600,000 to 800,000 years. And could be 40,000 years past due to erupt. The geology of Scotts Bluff and beyond has been affected by Yellowstone as volcanic ash covered the landscape, just as it will do again. Over millions of years the landscape was twisted and turned by erosion as well. The geology of Scotts Bluff offers a view of the Wildcat Hills area that spans a time period between 33 and 22 million years to the present.

In what I call recent history, mankind migrated to this continent, probably from several different directions. During modern history between 1840 to 1860 half a million people traversed over the Oregon Trail using ancient monuments such as Scotts Bluff for trail markers along the way. This trail branches off to California and was also the highway used by Mormons traveling to Utah or gold seekers heading to Montana linked to the Bozeman Trail.

Then in 1963 simple me was born. And now I stand in the pathway of a tiny portion of human history, between points within bluffs through which families migrated. Up to 30,000 died on this pathway. If stretched out along the 2000 mile trail, there would be a grave every 352 feet. Someday, as it has always happened, this place will once again be covered by geological forces. The landscape will change and maybe thousands of years later someone will visit here. Nearly all those who died on this trail have no markers. I will remember them. Not by name but through shared experience. They and I are a link in the chain.

View from National Monument Visitor’s Center. There is no fee to see the park!

There is a walking trail that takes you through a pedestrian tunnel to the summit. You can also drive to the top.

Photo on display in visitors center. Not sure what year it was taken but it was in color. There is a deep ravine in the trail which was common as thousands of wagons passed over it, rutting the pathway.

Robidoux RV Park – City of Gering Nebraska

At $23 a night with the weekly rate, Robidoux RV Park was a great find. All roads are paved and your spot has a concrete pad and patio. Full hookup utilities and some spots offer cable TV. Operated by the City of Gering which is a community next to Scottsbluff within view of the National Monument. An interesting comment is the City of Scottsbluff is spelled different than the monument (two words – Scotts Bluff). The city waters the lawn where campers have a thick carpet of grass with plenty of space between campers. Highways into the area, to include scenic US 26 Highway, are easy to navigate. We found plenty to do during the week to include eating at a couple local drive-ins and venturing out into the countryside. We also checked out the Riverside Park Campground but highly recommend Robidoux.

Our yard of thick grass at Robidoux RV Park
Views at dusk are interesting as the clouds pass over the Scotts Bluff Monument, in this case, backlit by the sun.

Day trip to Rebecca Winter’s Grave and Lake Minatare

On the way to Lake Minatare we stopped at a hard to find grave along the Oregon/Mormon Trail. You might know the Oregon Trail starts in Independence Missouri which is the home of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. We Have toured the church and area several times as Independence is a suburb of Kansas City where we lived. Lots of history in Independence to include the Mormons starting off on the trail to Zion in Utah. Rebecca’s grave is outside Scotts Bluff near the transcontinental railway.

Lake Minatare is a state park. A local resident said it was worth the drive just to check out the inland lighthouse, constructed by the Civilian Conservation Corp. The lighthouse was built to give people hope during the great depression. The lake sits between what looks like sand bluffs. The beaches are huge along the lakeshore.

Drive to Robidoux Pass Through the Wildcat Hills and Trail Crossing

The title of this section sums up an interesting day spent in the truck, sometimes in four wheel drive, discovering less visited spots along the Oregon/California Trail. As wagon train after wagon train made it to Scotts Bluff each marked the occasion as a waypoint, knowing if they made it by July 4th they probably could make it over the Rocky Mountains before snow closed the passes. Just like those trails we hike today, sometimes they veer a little off course for better trail conditions. Pioneers traveled maybe 16 to 20 miles a day at this point in the trail. They avoided long detours when possible. The detours they did take, for example to an easier river crossing or between an opening in a mountain chain, would become the most established portions of the trail. Grazing land was hard to find at times. Mules and oxen were the preferred animals to tow trailers as they could live off prairie grass when horses had problems with it. Pioneers would move their livestock off the trail for a mile or more to find grazing land. Wagon trains might also select a spot well off the trail to avoid human waste and disease left behind by earlier travelers.

Louis and Clark forged the first trail (not the Oregon Trail) from the United States to the west coast but that trail was unusable by wagons. Fur traders had been using other trails, so did the buffalo and Native Americans which became parts of the Oregon trail. This route to the west was actually blazed beginning in Oregon, not Independence Missouri.

One could pass between the hills at Scotts Bluff or Robidoux Pass where the Robidoux family established a trading post, later moving it to another location. The military established a small fort in the area. Pioneers would continue on their way to larger Fort Laramie for repairs and resupply. They have been following the North Platte River.

An hour drive with the truck passed over land it would have taken the pioneers more than a day to travel. The roadways for us was sometimes gravel and sometimes thick dust that turns to mud just like it did for the pioneers. We drove through areas where I felt we were trespassing, but signs said just stay on the road through private lands. We never found a pioneer graveyard we were searching for but did find the intersection of the actual Oregon Trail and California Trail. This was mostly located in areas where cattle free-range even today.

Hmm, name spelled different “Roubadeau” vs. Robidoux as in Robidoux Pass and Trading Post – and RV Park.
A gold mine for us. We found where the California Trail split off from the Oregon Trail.

Day Trip to Agate Fossil Beds

Sioux County Nebraska is comprised of 2100 square miles and contains just one town. Imagine all the water nearly gone, save for a few watering holes. Animals, in this case dinosaurs, naturally flocked to those remaining water holes. The National Monument at Agate Fossil Beds was one of those remaining water holes. Bones were preserved, having not been crushed by glacier activity during various ice ages. As an added benefit, the park tells the story and displays American Indian artifacts during an age of friendship between rancher James Cook and Chief Red Cloud of the Lakota (Sioux) Indian Tribe.

A treaty was signed, giving safe passage to settlers traveling the Oregon Trail. The peace pipe they smoked is here at the visitor’s center. Artifacts from Red Cloud and his wife are here. The sister of Chief Crazy Horse helped bury him after his death at Fort Robinson Nebraska. She had only one item left from him. It’s here at the visitors center. I’m not much for American Indian History but admit the darkened room full of information and artifacts was a great experience added to the fossil displays. We skipped the walking trail to a couple mounds where fossils had been found as the heat was horrendous. This is the site where “smaller” dinosaurs roamed. The larger ones most of us know are out in Montana and other states.

Chief Red Cloud Clothing
Mounds where bones were located. There is a walking trail to the dig site.
For those that believe Nebraska is a fly-over state with not much to see. On this map of western Nebraska I can see many locations worth a stop, several within a reasonable drive from one another. Scottsbluff, Fort Laramie and Guernsey State Park, Alliance with Car Hinge, Agate Fossil Beds, Chadron State Park and National Forest with view of the foothills of the Black Hills, Fort Robinson west of Chadron. One could easily spend a month in the area of western Nebraska.

We are currently camped on the high plains of Kansas, having spent four nights in Ogallala Nebraska on the way here. We are heading towards Abilene Kansas to visit Dwight Eisenhower, then on to Kansas City by September 7th just after the last major camping holiday when spots are easier to get.

R.I.P – Sgt. Scott Boyum has died at the age of 54 from a long illness. We were co-workers. I’ll visit his grave along with Don Mansell’s when we return to Kansas City.

Buffalo Wyoming

We moved from Montana traveling down I-90/US87 to I-25 along the east side of the Bighorn Mountains, arriving in Buffalo Wyoming the last day of the county fair. This trip included no mountain driving or tunnels. I reserved our week long stay at Indian Campground and RV Park two months earlier, having no problem locking into a full hookup pull-through spot under shade trees. At about 4,600 feet in elevation we found the daytime temperatures still warm but at least the night time temps came down. Buffalo was on our radar for a visit as long ago as 2013 when Karen decided touring he Occidental Hotel was a must see event. There is plenty to do in the area.

Our Stay at the Indian Campground and RV Park

At about $44 a night this might be the most expensive park we have stayed at in the past two years. It was a rare occasion that I made use of a swimming pool. Karen appreciated the commercial size laundry room with plenty of machines, a decent office/gift store and a huge dog area off a small mountain stream where Wyatt could play and run through the water. Our section of the park was mostly occupied by those staying over-night or for a few days. Many stop here before going over the mountain on US 16 Highway towards Cody Wyoming and eventually Yellowstone National Park. Neighbors brought their motorcycles having come from the Black Hills and Sturgis in South Dakota. Rides into scenic countryside are plentiful.

Red arrow points to Buffalo Wyoming. Not far from several popular destinations.
Site E03

Visiting Downtown Buffalo and the Occidental Hotel

Shortly after arriving in Buffalo we headed downtown to visit the hotel and try and find a fishing guide so Karen could check off a bucket list item which was learning to fly fish – in Wyoming. We had checked several sources online earlier with no luck. It seems seeking out a spot to fish somewhere up in the mountains was what individuals do. Neither of us have ever touched a fly pole and would need a guide. The campground manager recommended stopping at the local sporting goods store and ask about guided trips. At the store we learned the guides were not working because it is so hot the fish are not biting. I had checked different areas of Wyoming known for fly fishing and in the back of my mind I knew someday we should travel west of the Bighorns into more popular tourist and fishing areas. Unfortunately, there would be no fishing on this trip.

Downtown sporting goods store
This is Clear Creek. The river walk begins outside of town.

Buffalo Wyoming is the county seat of Johnson County. If you are a western movie fan you probably have heard of the county. Home of much western history to include the Johnson County Wars. Wyoming remains the least populated state in the country. In the early days the land was public domain where ranchers allowed cattle to roam free. In time there was competition for grazing land and water. Cattle rustling was common and a “war” would erupt and hired gunmen were brought in. The US Army put an end to it. The cattle barons had gone too far and lost a lot of their power after the war. Because the cattle barons no longer had as much power, smaller ranchers and homesteaders were able to flourish.

Ranching included sheep

According to Webster’s, the word Occidental derives from the Latin occident-occidens, meaning “the west” or “the part of the sky where the sun sets. The Occidental Hotel was established in 1880 and became known as the place to stay near the Bozeman Trail which connected the gold mine area of southern Montana to the the Oregon Trail in eastern Wyoming. You will recognize photos or names of its famous guests scattered among the hotel walls. Buffalo Bill Cody, Calamity Jane, Teddy Roosevelt, Tom Horn, Earnest Hemmingway, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid to name a few. Over time the hotel was rebuilt and remodeled. During our visit we found the hotel attached to a restaurant and salon. You can still rent a room!

Photo from occidentalwyoming.com

Karen headed into the salon to check it out and get a couple dark beers for us to go while I walked our dog Wyatt (Earp) outside. She returned to announce management says we can bring the dog through the salon then out the back door to a wonderful seating area along the mountain creek. We had the entire yard to ourselves.

Early 1900’s salon
Two wonderful dark beers enjoyed along Clear Creeks mountain stream.

Day Trips Near Buffalo

Good thing the interstate speed limit is 80 MPH as there is plenty to see miles from town. I should add we pulled the camper at 65 MPH through sparsely populated Montana and Wyoming with no issue. We have seen no highway vehicles working in the area and for the first time in hundreds of miles saw our first state troopers – at a Mexican restaurant. As a side note, our truck has a fuel range when towing of about 320 miles. We have had no problem finding refuel points if needed.

A short list of possible day trips from Buffalo Wyoming could have included: TA Ranch where the final shootout happened during the Johnson County Range War, drive over the Bighorn Mountains to the Thermopolis hot springs or Ten Sleep, some will drive back to the Little Bighorn Battlefield, Hole in the Wall (gang) lookout point, Crazy Women Canyon up the mountain and Dry Creek Petrified Forrest. We took time for two trips that are not among this list.

US 16 goes over the Bighorn Mountains and is considered a safe route. We did see one rig broken down on a hill climb and another at the RV park waiting for parts having not made the climb. Both were older tow vehicles. Semi trucks made their way down the steeper grades at a low speed with their flasher on. You can also take US 14 further to the north. Although peeks can reach to just over 13,000 feet, the pass on US 16 maxes out at 9,666 feet. Along the drive up from the east side of the mountain we found just one runaway truck lane. Karen and I also discovered we did not feel well once we went over about 8,000 feet. I’ve been worried about the effects of elevation as later in life I’ve experienced dizziness when flying and the doctors can’t find the source of the problem other than to say it’s caused by anxiety. Personally, I think its an inner ear or pressure issue I’ve developed over time. On this trip we have been living at around 5,000 feet and last year we were at the same elevation with little issue. Common sense dictates that I keep this all in mind should we find ourselves pulling the trailer at higher elevations. Fine – now I know elevations over 8,000 are an issue and I don’t like tunnels! I’ll work around it. I doubt I’ll find enough opportunities to just get used to it.

The views were amazing and varied on the mountain. There are plenty of side trips down mountain roads. It took some time but I found an excellent mountain guide in PDF form:

Yes, that’s snow on the peeks in August.
Entering Bighorn National Forrest. Plenty of camping spots if interested.
Boondocking. Gas station in town has an RV dump station near diesel pumps.

Our second day trip was spent in small town Kaycee Wyoming. From here some will drive out to the Hole in the Wall lookout point but after researching the drive and how far away we would be from the actual entrance to the Hole in the Wall Pass we decided it was not worth the trip. I wanted to see a small but informative museum in town. By chance we arrived the day before their annual bus tour of historic sites surrounding the Johnson County Ranch War, lead by the man that wrote the book. At $90 to include lunch at TA Ranch would have been worth it but I could not fit it into the next days schedule. As is usually the case, as I entered the museum I asked an employee what was the most fascinating article in the place. She said there are at least three items not to miss. She had time and gave me a personal tour. What luck….

Hoofprints of the Past Museum in Kaycee Wyoming. Get a beer and lunch across the street.

I told the museum employee I was not much interested in American Indian artifacts (they had several displays) but was most interesting in the the Hole in the Wall Gang and ranch wars. In photos, here was my personal tour.

This skull was found in the area. It has an arrowhead embedded in the eye socket. A co-worker and good friend back in Kansas City (Detective Ford) is from Buffalo Wyoming and I’ll bet is reading this post. Kat, you can be sure I had a conversation with the museum employee that this wound most likely did not kill the person the day he received it. I’d like to know where the skull fractures came from. The calcium buildup at the base of the arrowhead grew over time after the wound and was noted in the displays description.
Modified weapon. Over time the barrel was cut off, it’s a flint-lock and the stock is handmade.
This handgun was shot out of a mans hand while he was shooting from his horse during the Johnson County Ranch War
Tom Horn was hung as a result of the ranch war. I had seen his photo in the museum and other places. They had some of his personal property.
Ha – no need to go to Hole in the Wall. This is a photo of the place.
I’ve read the bodies of soldiers killed at Little Bighorn were looted. Some think there remains a stash of weapons in a long lost cave. The US Army would fight some of the same Indians later, just outside Kaycee Wyoming. Found were weapons from Little Bighorn. They also found Tom Custer’s hat (he is George Custer’s brother and killed at Little Bighorn beside him). The museum thinks the hat made its way to the Smithsonian Institution in Washington. I appreciated the display of recovered weapons and ammunition here in Kaycee.

Located within walking distance of the museum is a well landscaped pocket park featuring country singer and rodeo champion Chris LaDoux who is from Kaycee. This is a small town, so about everything is within walking distance. There was a local motel – its a doublewide trailer.

RV Tip for this Post – Bugs

I might have issues with driving through tunnels or elevations above 8,000 feet, but I’m thankful the fear of bugs is not among my concerns. Over the past two years our home has been infested by mites, nates and other small flying insects. So far, we have been lucky and the ants have not made it inside with great numbers. With trial and error I’ve come up with the best defense for us. Although I try hard to limit chemicals we haul around, anything goes for bugs. Sprays that kill on contact are best. I bought a tiny handheld sprayer to mix chemicals and think I’ve found the best ant traps with the help of friends. We vacuum bugs inside the trailer, in the worst cases using our one gallon shop vac with a bag. All flies die ASAP by way of a fly swatter. I try and not leave outside basement doors open where insects can get in and every now and then spray grass/weeds or around any place where the camper touches the ground. Some say Comet powder cleaner helps to prevent ants from moving up the campers leveling jacks but I’ve not used it. I’ve thought about getting disposable hanging fly traps for outside when we are stops for a week or longer. We have not found a way to stop the nats outside, especially when parked near trees. When the bugs bite its usually time to go inside.

Bugs hate bleach. We do keep a trash can outside but don’t put food scraps in it. A couple of sprays of bleach water keeps bugs away. Karen keeps bleach for laundry anyway, otherwise I’d not haul it around as a cleaning agent.

After our weeklong stay in Buffalo, we moved the RV to a tiny RV park (Peak View) near I-25 and US Highway 26 along the Oregon Trail. Peak View is best described as a homeless camp for RVers. But the view of Laramie Mountain was nice. New owner who I suppose will improve the place. We decided to skip finding the wagon ruts along the Oregon Trail and tour of Fort Laramie near Wheatland Wyoming. We are currently in Scottsbluff Nebraska.

Four Days in Montana – Weeks of Planning to Get Here

If you are just interested in our short stay in Montana please feel free to skip forward in the post. I find the need to over-explain why Montana and the planning process to get here.

Planning to Get to Montana

Most of what RV bloggers write about is no secret, it’s information that can be found in hundreds of websites if one searches long enough. We want to keep your attention, no matter if you are new to traveling or have been at it for years. We often don’t know if that one single sentence hit home, where the reader was surprised, moved emotionally or says to themselves “I had no idea.” For me, blogging has to include the notion that someone can start reading from the very first post on this site to the last and get something out of every page. Not necessarily a go-to place to learn it all, but a place where they can read the story of our journey and all it took to get here beginning years before we left the driveway. I hate to leave out anything important or depend upon – well they (reader) will just figure it out on their own eventually. I’m thankful to all who have provided guidance to me in any form.

Often I meet folks at campsites who are interested in long-term or full-time RVing and rather than spew out all the details beyond answering their questions, I hand them a business card with my blog address and suggest they take time to read it from the beginning just as I did with plenty of other blogs while planning for our future in an RV. I began following blogs in 2013, many of which the travelers are a group of friends who began their journey at roughly the same time. I am now seeing them, one by one, begin the next journey by coming off the road, building homes or whatever their idea of living is beyond RVing. And, unfortunately, a couple bloggers I started to follow have died or are in poor health. I appreciate reading about their lives regardless if they are traveling or not. Yet there are others that began traveling years before I began reading blogs and they have no intention of ever coming off the road. Here I am, two years into actual travel added to around six years of planning and I feel like I am the next generation, the torch is handed off and it will not be long before we are the “experts”, especially as only 20% who begin a life on the road will stay there more than five years. Two years is a long time in this lifestyle, especially the first two years, those that know it don’t require an explanation.

The hard part of this post is having to think back months and recall why the heck we decided to take this route and why was Montana part of it. Route planning is no simple thing and probably the most important step when you are dragging a 15,000 pound camper around the country safely and prefer not to cover the same ground at $3.44 or more a gallon, wear out expensive tires or break yet another part on the RV.

Planning this summer trip began during the winter months. Not to be confusing but our spring trip, that got us to Michigan, was planned in detail while at the time I was drafting what-if plans for the summer. I’m currently doing what-if planning for next spring having completed most of the fall and winter plans.

We knew we wanted to explore the upper peninsula of Michigan and see family in Howell Michigan. So I booked two weeks near family as soon as we all agreed on the best dates for the visit which included average temperatures and avoiding black fly issues up north. I found several unreserved spots in each of two state park campgrounds with space for our rig. I then let my trip planner (RV Trip Wizard) suggest a route between Florida and the first spot in Michigan. Then we decided to visit friends in Traverse City Michigan we had meet during our winter stay in Florida, so I added that stop on the route and booked our camping spot as soon as possible, sometimes leaving weeks of unscheduled time between booked stops for travel. I checked my go-to sources which quickly revealed four places in the upper peninsula of Michigan that were must-see locations. I called a campground to book our first stop in the Upper Peninsula where the campground manager alerted me to reserve our spots quickly as the Upper Peninsula is the summer vacation spot for all of Michigan. Darn, I now had to book four more stops way in advance, again letting the route planner suggest what highways to take. I prefer just to book a couple major stops and fill in the remainder as we travel but not more than two months in advance other than when kids are out of school on summer vacations or during a few holidays.

At this point in the story all our main stops in Michigan are booked. During the actual trip, I’ll be changing what highways we take to each destination as I learn more about the area and roads. We talked about going to Yellowstone Wyoming and making a north to south run down to a couple other national parks before turning east back towards next winters location. Why? Well frankly because Yellowstone seems to be a place everyone else takes their RV as a must see location. So what was the best way to Yellowstone for us which might add several interesting places along the way? Knowing we would be taking off from the Upper Peninsula of Michigan we would most likely travel along I-94. I called a campground in Billings Montana as soon as we knew we would be coming that way. The campground manger laughed and said don’t come. The park was full for the entire season and she has never seen it this busy. Damn, now what. Good thing there are plenty of interesting stops in this country. But to be sure, I checked a map of potential places I’ve been keeping for future visits.

My spreadsheet of ideas of where to go will place blue markers within Google Maps. We are trying to find alternatives to visiting busy Yellowstone this year. Well heck, we have already been in the Black Hills around Rapid City South Dakota. I discover others have recommended stops mostly in the Yellowstone Wyoming area but there were a few along the east side of the Bighorn Mountains. I knew little about the Bighorn Valley area, where mostly I’ve noted over the years just a few campsites others have recommended. You see, one is never a couple hundred miles between great places but you have to turn around at some point or just add them to a great big endless loop of places. Or one can drive north to south along a line, jump over a couple hundred miles and do it again – probably all the way to the Pacific.

So I Guess Southeastern Montana Is the Place to Go – On the Way Elsewhere

I’d heard about Theodore Roosevelt National Park as being one that is not crowded. So I added that to the trip as a major destination and quickly reserved a campground months in advance, again leaving weeks in the schedule for the drive with at the time, unreserved campgrounds. I had to study up on the Bighorn Mountain area and was not comfortable with winging it in terms of elevations along the route. I wanted to know what highways had major mountains as this would have been my first ever experience pulling a heavy RV as high as 9,666 feet in elevation had we wanted to jump over the Bighorns for a short trip into say Cody Wyoming. I decided to stay in the foothills of the mountains and take day trips which turned out to be a great idea. More on that when I get to our Wyoming post in a few days. Now remember, at this point in planning we still had not left our winter spot in Florida. We would be in Michigan, having planned all the interesting points in between on a refined route before I confirmed many other camping spots along this summer trip.

I had no issue with breaking our general rule of no more than 200 miles of travel each day. We were going to be on interstates for the longest period in the last two years. Our longest daily drive would turn out to be 240 miles.

Okay, so now we know Roosevelt National Park is along the way to the Bighorn Mountains. So, I ask myself, what’s about 200 miles from there which might have interesting places for 50 mile day trips without the RV? I checked sources and called a campground. Custer’s last stand at Little Bighorn River and Pompeys Pillar National Monument. We could also drive to Billings Montana or look for unplanned beauty along the Yellowstone River from The Fort at 49 RV Campground, Custer Montana.

I described the RV park to Karen, wanting to set realistic expectations and get her buy-in to stop there. It is in the middle of beautiful nowhere at the fork of two roads. Access to a state highway will save us miles as we cut over from I-94 to I-90 on the way to I-25. Altitude is about 2,500 feet at the RV Park. The drive from North Dakota would reveal unanticipated beauty. I’ll describe the trip over to Montana in one sentence. When you leave westward from Roosevelt National Park the views along I-94 are like you never left the national park. I can’t take a photo while driving but downloaded a couple from Google Earth. Here is a YouTube link to someone’s video along the route if you are interested.

Google Earth view – Drive from Roosevelt National Park to Montana over I-94 westbound

Custer Montana Area With Day Trips

Just a warning to readers who prefer concrete pads, no dust and no wind for camping spots. You will not find that spot in this area. Like so many travelers, we have been putting up with views through the haze of forest fire smoke. Even saw a couple burnt grass areas along this drive. Ranger in western North Dakota said the area was in drought last year, and severe drought conditions this year. They expect next year to be worse.

The Fort at 49 (exit 49) RV Park has six power poles next to water and sewer hookups. Management will tell ya to park at a pole number which are not labeled. You can face your camper whatever direction gives you the best view. There are 12 camping spots with each pole having one 50 amp and one 30 amp side. So get there early if you want a 50 amp spot. Most folks we met were traveling through for an over-night stop. Wow, we unexpectedly enjoyed our stay. We spent more $$ eating meals in the campground restaurant than on the camping spot. Management are very fine chefs. On Friday and Saturday nights it’s best to make a restaurant reservation. As I think back there are maybe three small buildings in view of the campground for 10 miles in any direction. Locals love this place. We met several RV’ers who are traveling to and from Washington State. We had a restaurant meal with Beverly, a solo-traveler. I noticed the ladies dressed up for dinner. Lucky me had two very attractive gals at my table. Wonder what the cowboys at the other tables thought about that. We enjoyed listening to Beverly’s story which includes many miles of travel in a motorhome. She and her husband owned and sold a resort. He has passed away. Sounds like she has owned and driven about one of everything motorhome related and now travels in a Class B plus. Beverly – We hope you are enjoying time with your family in Minnesota and arrived safe and sound! Karen says hello. As usual I did not get a photo of our new friend for the blog. Beverly had come over to our camping spot looking for her cat. I got Wyatt out of the RV and figured he would track it down. I spotted the cat in the shade under an RV. Beverly leaves a window open with a ladder next to it so the cat can come and go as needed.

Fort at 49 (exit 49) RV Park. All long pull-throughs. Easy in, easy out with full hookups. No problem finding fuel down the road in Custer. Clouds every night so we never saw that Big Montana Sky with view of stars. The Yellowstone River is across the street. The interstate noise at night is minimal.

Pompey’s Pillar National Monument

Louis and Clark split up on their Journey with Clark exploring the Yellowstone River. Sacagawea was with him. She showed him a high rock area that he would name Pompey’s Pillar. He named it after her infant whom he called Pomp. Take some bug spray with you. There are vending machines for water. More than 250 steps will lead you to the top. Half way up is Clark’s signature among hundreds of other’s to include Native American rock carvings. This must be the only green lawn for miles as it’s irrigated with water from the Yellowstone River which you can walk to as well. Here is a YouTube video I posted from the top. A volunteer (workcamper) described the area as having been a shallow sea at one time. Some believe the cliffs of the Yellowstone were the edge of the sea. Some believe the sea had barrier islands and this area was just one of them, hence the large areas of sandstone.

This is Clark’s real signature. He describes carving it in the rock within his journal.

Little Bighorn Battlefield National Monument

My sister Lisa gave me a book about Custer two years ago which included his Indian fighting days. I also read a book months ago regarding the investigation into what happened at the battle. Later in Wyoming we would visit a museum where artifacts and weapons the Indians took from the soldiers were recovered at yet another battle. More on that in my Wyoming post.

I’ll not go into much detail about the battlefield other than to mention a few take-ways I found notable after visiting the park. First, the battlefield is huge. No wonder troops had trouble moving around and rejoining. Markers are set out along walking and driving paths. Locations of Indian dead are red while soldiers are white. The attached National Cemetery holds many graves of those killed during the Indian Wars. Over the years the American Indian tribes have complained about not being property represented at the battlefield so there have been changes. You get here through the Crow Reservation area and pass through private land within the park to get to its extremes along the Little Bighorn River. The visitors center was not that good, probably because I had read so much prior to arrival. At the top of a hill is where Custer and his remaining 40 plus troops were killed, to include his brother. As you drive back towards it along the vehicle tour, you can see a long string of white markers (dead soldiers) leading up to the last stand hill as the soldiers retreated and were killed along he way. It will take at least six hours to see it all if you know little about the battle. We spent about three hours there. At the top of last stand hill are three handicapped parking spots, otherwise you walk a long path uphill from the visitor’s center.

National Cemetery. Soldiers with families.
Interesting monument listing those killed out west, where and when.
This battlefield is huge. See the roadway between hills. I can see now why Reno and others wandered about shooting in the distance which eventually stopped.
They had time to setup a field hospital. This is the marker.
Crazy Horse attack area, just below last stand hill. White markers of soldiers strung out along the path to the hill. We have seem Crazy Horse’s place of death at Fort Robinson Nebraska. His image on the mountain in South Dakota and know where he gained fame.

I’ll end this post where I started – route planning and why go this way in Montana. So way back in 2013 Karen told me to put a stop on the spreadsheet for the Occidental Hotel in Buffalo Wyoming. She prioritized it as a 1, mean drive there no mater what. Well the route from Custer Montana took us south to Buffalo. Later, while thinking about what route to take back towards our 2021 winter spot I figured why not drive southeast and take the Oregon Trail. We have been rewarded with great views of Montana and like so many other states, we will most likely come back.

We are currently stopped in Wheatland Wyoming with US 26 (the Oregon Trail) directly in front of us. I’m heading outside to start the generator. They have cut the power off a second time to work on the lines.

North Dakota and Theodore Roosevelt National Park

Our scheduled stay in North Dakota was 12 nights. We drove further than our usual 200 mile daily limit between stops as the entire drive was over interstates. The drive through the cities of Fargo and Bismarck was a none event. I don’t recall the speed on the interstate even changed while passing through. First stop was Jamestown ND which just happened to have an RV park a reasonable distance from our last stop along the drive to our destination at Theodore Roosevelt National Park. We skipped stopping in Wisconsin as we intend to explore that state later. We spent four nights in Jamestown and visited the National Buffalo Museum with nearby western street. Author Louis Lamour was born here, but buried in California. I’m sure the town influenced the nature of his writings. I swapped out a book for one of his at a campground book exchange as I’ve never read one of his.

Our Spot at Jamestown ND Campround

We lucked out and was assigned the best spot at the Jamestown Campgrounds. The frontage road off Interstate 94 that leads to the park is roughly graded gravel but fine if you take it slow. We had lots of space on the awning side of the camper and an easy walk to very large fields where the dog was able to run off-leash over wide mowed paths through the grass. Wonderful place to stay just to take a break from travels.

For sure the National Buffalo Museum was worth a visit only because we were in town. There is a small street of old western buildings the city has setup in the same area with shops. You will learn everything you want to know about buffalo in this smaller unique museum. The site is not a National Historic location or anything similar in size. But they do have the worlds largest buffalo statue.

Funny sign outside the National Buffalo Museum. They have a few head of Buffalo fenced in to view. I had no idea they could run so fast for up to 30 minutes at a time. Adds a new meaning to warnings inside National Parks not to exit vehicles and approach buffalo. A male can, and at certain times of the year will, easily run you down before you make it back to the car.
This is a rare one. Raised on the museum grounds, died and stuffed.

Theodore Roosevelt National Park

I’ve heard more than once that Roosevelt National Park is under-rated. Before we planned the trip I wondered if it was any different than the South Dakota Badlands off Interstate 90 which we have yet to see. Looking at photos I say the two are different in at least colors. If you have traveled east or west on I-90 in South Dakota, why not make the next trip just to the north over I-94 in North Dakota.

Roosevelt National Park actually covers three sections of area which are not attached to one another. One section is Roosevelt’s old ranch, then you have a south and north section of badlands with paved roads to tour the park. We skipped his old ranch section where nothing remains other than a few stones from a foundation. Roosevelt sold the property which would have been altered.

I’ll skip most of the history lesson, knowing those interested will look it up if they ever come here. In short, Roosevelt was a sickly child. As he grew up he compensated for his weaknesses, and to build his body up, by participating in sports. I came away with the opinion he was a kid that might easily have been picked on by bullies and he did his utmost to prove he would not become someone to be messed with. He was born into a rich New York family and liked to hunt. He came out west to shoot a buffalo before they were extinct. He arrived in the Medora North Dakota area and shot one. He also fell in love with the area and after further reflection he figured the buffalo needed to be saved. He also said North Dakota took the New York snob out of him. He recognized you have to get out of the city to learn about the America people. Well he bought some land and decided to try his hand at cattle ranching, traveling back and fourth to New York where he was a politician. His wife and mom died, in the same house on the same day in July. Heartbroken he came back to his ranch in North Dakota to heal. This was before his time in history involving the Rough Riders that he organized to fight in Cuba (lots of cowboys in that group) or as Governor of New York or the President.

I got to wondering why his image is among George Washington’s, Abraham Lincoln’s and Thomas Jefferson’s at Mount Rushmore. Well the folks out here in the Dakota Territory are proud of Roosevelt and his personality. As President of the Unites States he would become known as the “conservation president.” Those that hunt and fish are often the most vocal when it comes to preserving those lands and water. Roosevelt used his authority to protect wildlife and public lands by creating the United States Forest Service and establishing 150 national forests, 51 federal bird reserves, 4 national game preserves, 5 national parks, and 18 national monuments. The stated reason why his image is on Mount Rushmore has to do with his leadership during a time of rapid growth in the United States.

Okay, what about the three units of the park. They are separated by miles. The north unit is 68 miles from the south over a state highway outside the south unit. Roosevelt’s old ranch was added as the park formed. I can’t possibly describe the geology and beauty of the area because I lack the required writing skills. We drove the distance and visited the north unit. It’s worth it as the valleys are deeper and the colors are different than the south unit. The north unit also has only one tenth the visitors as the south unit. Staying in the area a week allowed us to spend a couple days inside the south unit and even on a Friday it was not terribly busy.

There was a time in the not so distant past I had very little experience touring nationals parks. I’ll assume readers might also lack experience. Therefore I’ll take a moment to describe what “busy” means in a national park. Knowing 2021 would be a year of record attendance at national parks, we are skipping the Yellowstone area, even if we are close to the most famous parks in western Montana and Wyoming. From my experience so far, National Parks and Monuments include long paved roads folks drive around and stop at various interesting viewpoints. Parking lots and pullouts along the roads are limited in capacity. There are boardwalks and trails galore and during the busy season you might be hiking with a lot of others which takes away from the overall would-be peaceful solitude. The visitor centers will have some RV parking which is shared with all the other dozens, if not hundreds, of cars. You might have to stand in line to see an interesting display. I suppose a lot of this crowding can be overcome if you tour at the right time of year which I’m starting to think is the month the park opens and the month it closes. September has become one of our favorite months to travel.

We stayed down the street from the south entrance at Red Trail Campground which has been a family owned campground for over 40 years. Mary took my reservation months ago over the phone when at the time she recognized our home address in Livingston Texas, saying we must be fulltimers. A couple other campers said the ladies in the office were not that friendly. Others said they are efficient and easy going. I asked Mary about her family and how the RV park was built. She was offered two million dollars recently to sell out but says no, she has a daughter in college that wants to run it. She is proud that her father took no personal income from the park for the first 12 years he owned it. Frankly, the park is somewhat crowded by spaces close to the neighbor, dusty at times with very few amenities. In other words, fairly typical to what we have found now in three states out west. We came here to tour the National Park and our camper was backed up to an area that could have easily been part of the National Park. The views were fascinating. This history of Medora North Dakota offers nearly as many interesting spots as does the National Park. The town is small and was busy one weekend (we stayed a full week and recommend it) as there were two weddings and a bike race. Otherwise the crowds thinned out during weekdays to include to refuel at the single gas station which has one unleaded and one diesel pump. The beer prices were way over priced – so bring you own. The fuel prices were reasonable as I suppose the locals would have not tolerated unfair gas prices and traveled 20 miles down the road to buy at a better price.

I’ll be included more photos of the north section of the park compared to the south as it really was that much more interesting, to Karen and me anyway. Before the photos, I want to comment about a couple other interesting experiences. You can walk from the RV park to downtown. I stopped to buy nuts at a specialty shop. The elderly lady working alone and said she was 95 years of age, the oldest person in town. Raised here and later moved on to be educated in New York and elsewhere. I asked what was the most interesting thing in town I should not miss. She says, as the towns historian, she recommends two places, one of which without knowing I most likely have already experienced. Other than the obvious, Roosevelt National Park, don’t miss the history of Chateu De Mores State Historic Site (we skipped it) and the second, and most important experience I should not miss, is the people of North Dakota. Where old fashion family values are more than a buzz word. She had a way of using words and I certainly got the meaning and respected her opinion as an elder and a native of North Dakota. Not fifteen minutes later, I walked towards the only convenience store in town. A man is entering at the same time and holds the door wide open for me, saying his grandmother would rise from her grave if he ever failed to hold the door open for a stranger. I held my hand out, introducing myself as Mark from Texas. He says wow, an out-of-towner willing to shake a mans hand regardless of the virus thing. He says come by the restaurant next door, he wants to buy me dinner. He works there as a dish washer. I told him, how about if I can make it I buy him dinner and he can buy mine. I regret not making time for that meal or seeking out a more personal town event where I could have met more locals. Mary, back at the RV park, might seem direct and efficiently unpleasant to some. Ask her about her family and why she keeps running the park, just make sure you have 30 minutes to talk.

Medora is located about 30 minutes west of the larger town of Dickinson which is the place where the very last trainload of buffalo skins were transported from the Dakota grasslands.

And now the photos – I’ll include a simple but important RV tip afterwards…

Our spot at Red Trail Campground. The campground host will escort you to your tight spot. A retired truck driver that knows how to get you in without issue.
North Dakota Cowboy Hall of Fame. If you enjoy rodeo events, takes some tissue because your mouth will be watering. The place is packed full of stuff to include amazing artwork.
All original cowboy guns from the 1800’s forward.
World Champions put their buckles and saddles on display within the museum.
Roosevelts cabin, one of two, had been moved around the country for viewing in the early 1900’s, then moved back here to the visitor’s center.

Images from South Unit of Roosevelt National Park – Medora ND

Little Missouri River as seen from a short hike beginning a the Paradise Valley Ranch inside the South Unit.
Yes, the South Unit includes wild horses

Images of North Unit – Roosevelt National Park – 68 Miles from South Unit

I’d describe the North Unit as more of a mountain chain compared to the South Unit which are a series of hills, for lack of better words. In the north large rivers that form here and run south, like I know from the Midwest such as the Missouri River, are just a trickle of water compared with their arrival in St. Louis. River’s like the Yellowstone and Big Horn will be the big ones we encounter more than once. Heck, if you move a little more to the north, water starts to run northward rather than southward like we are used to.

Ranger talk about Buffalo. During the general questions section, I asked why we had experienced closed Federal visitor’s centers in the south in the past few months. Closed with signs stating it was pandemic related while the state sites were wide open. He says many of the national parks and monuments are staffed by summer labor. For two years they did not know if they would have a job that summer so to be safe, they took employment elsewhere this year. As a side note, I found later in Montana there were mask mandates only inside Federal park buildings even though Montana is not a hotspot. I suspect the Feds are trying to set an example and can only truly control what happens on Federal property.
These balls, also seen in photo above, are not formed by water. They are formed by minerals massing in one area and growing upon one another.

Down and Dirty RV Tip

A few months ago I received a tip from a fellow Rver. I had been thinking I might need to replace a toilet bowl gasket after two years of usage…. It’s the gasket that keeps water in the bowl rather than dripping into the black tank.

It’s a nasty job but worth it. Put on a glove and use a finger to clean all the grunge off the gasket, to include the thin groove where the ball sets within. I sometimes also add a little Lube Tube Lubricant and Sealant. No more leaks.

We are currently located near the base of the Big Horn Mountains in Buffalo Wyoming.

Porcupine Mountains Michigan to Crosby (Brainerd) Minnesota

One of many waterfalls at Porcupine Mountains State Park – Michigan’s Upper Peninsula

While route planning for this trip months ago I decided to cut up to a more northern highway in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula to avoid big city traffic on the way to North Dakota. I’ve been to Minneapolis/St Paul in another life so there was no reason to fight our way around their interstates had we taken a more southern route to I-94. We found the roads up north well maintained and the scenery was awesome.

Much of this RV lifestyles involves what could be stressful driving. We burn through maybe $60 – $70 in fuel each time we move, usually less than 200 miles away. The drives are hardly ever boring as there is much to see out the window. This northern route is popular for RVs.

Michigan 28 to US 2 then Highway 210/US 10. Duluth has major interstate work where they are moving ramps from the left hand lane to the right. We were detoured towards southbound I-35 via Superior Minnesota. No worries, the detour south of Duluth was fine as was the 1950s bridge over the bay. We went through Duluth on a Sunday by chance. The drive took us through a business area that was not busy and was on a truck route.

Unfortunately the schedule did not allow more than an overnight stay near Marquette Michigan and Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore which are on the route before passing through Duluth. We would not be able to tour the sites without having a full day. I picked an easy park to get in and out of, along with full hookups to avoid time at the dump station the next morning. We stayed at Country Village RV Park (site 100 was perfect) in Ishpeming Michigan. I believe this was only the second time we spent just one night in a park during the past year of travel.

We would be moving from the eastern time zone to central time, gaining an hour which has to be factored in given most campgrounds have rules regarding arrival time. Although I’ve never had a campground office complain if we showed up perhaps an hour after the person that had our spot was due to check out. The larger campgrounds and state parks are more likely to have a person in the office fulltime. Staff in the smaller parks are often out doing other things, counting on RVs not to show up until a certain time. I’ve called ahead if we were going to be way early just to make sure it was okay. We hardly ever stay at a park which is first come first serve. But when we have, we showed up early, sometimes to find people still occupying spots they should have already left. That entire first come first serve thing is a little worrisome to me just in case the park is full and we don’t have a backup plan. Being able to arrive midweek.. I know some state parks leave spaces unassigned but so far we have not taken advantage of that. If you know any unusual secrets regarding first come first serve parks, let us know please.

Porcupine Mountains

Our next stop was a city park in Wakefield Michigan. I had no high hopes for the area with a planned tour of Porcupine Mountains, figuring they would be similar to the Ozarks of Missouri where we have spent much time. We were surprised. The visitors center sign was labeled “Wilderness Visitor Center” for a reason. At one point we took a 25 mile road through said wilderness. Yes, the Ozarks of Missouri/Arkansas include wilderness but not like this. Much of the park was along the shoreline of Lake Superior, included numerous waterfalls and a long deep valley viewed from a great height. We stayed at Eddy City Park and Campground. This city park, as many we have so far found, were occupied primarily by seasonal campers who live in the area and rent a spot for the spring and summer.

Our spot at Eddy City Park, Wakefield Michigan. The campground host was the best. He was apologetic that he assigned a different spot prior to our arrival as another camper was held over and occupying our previously assigned space. He offered to provide our spot free of charge but I insisted we pay. The spot we were moved to turned out to be one of the best in the park.
This can happen at a city park campground. Seasonal campers who brought their basketball goal from home. I assume so they could yell at passing motorist when they thought they were driving too fast. What I like most about city owned RV parks is they are often attached to, well, a city park with lots of open grass fields. The price is right and they are a good alternative to include during the summer when state and commercial RV parks are full.

Porcupine Mountains Wilderness is Michigan’s largest state park and offers exceptional opportunities for secluded types of recreation. Visitors can rent cabins that are in the middle of the woods and require they pack in their belongings. One can walk an extensive boardwalk along the banks of a stream and view waterfalls at many locations. A trail from the stream leads to a rocky beach on Lake Superior where the dog had a fun time running off-leash. A very short hike lead us to a lookout point with a view of a mountain lake.

The Porcupine Mountains were named by the native Ojibwa people, supposedly because their silhouette had the shape of a crouching porcupine. The visitor’s center was interesting and included details of copper mining and the parks creation as a result of volcanic activity. The park is the home to the most extensive stand of old growth hardwood forest in North America west of the Adirondack Mountains.

Lake in the Clouds
Cool museum display idea. Stuffed animal in front of a three dimensional forest photo.
Extensive boardwalk along the river bank with several stops to view waterfalls.
One of several Lake Superior beaches within the state park.
The rock colors have been changing the further we went from Lake Michigan. Our next stop is the iron ore territory of Minnesota.

Crosby and the Minnesota Iron Range

My high school class in geology was boring. We learned how to identify minerals and rocks. The final test, as I recall was a box of rocks which we had to identify. I took a four hour elective geology coarse in college which was a little more interesting then the high school class. We learned about different geological events that shaped the earth. I have to admit, spending time on the road has been a learning experience and has perked my interest as to why the places we visit came to be. I think it would be good to bone up on geology as part of preparing for fulltime RV travel.

During the drive to northern Minnesota Karen and I joked about trying to find a used blood covered woodchipper. At a rest stop a man commented we could stop in Fargo North Dakota and have a photo taken next to a woodchipper with a fake human leg. The movie Fargo included scenes supposedly from Brainerd Minnesota – don’t ya know. Actually the entire movie was filmed around Minneapolis to include the woodchipper scene.

Crosby Minnesota was a short stop at a city owned RV park. Just two rows of spaces alongside a city park and lake. Darn it – I can’t recall reading a single post in an RV blog about the wonders of Minnesota’s iron ore mining history. It’s so big I’d beat we would have had trouble winning World War 2 without Minnesota iron, yet alone building the massive steal skyscrapers throughout the nation. Wish I would have worked in a short side trip further north for more mining research.

I recall as a child my father talking about being part of the war effort as a child himself, running around his small community of Mt. Vernon Missouri collecting anything metal which could be turned into armaments to fight the Japs. It was his patriotic duty. In more recent times, some may recall the ship Edmund Fitzgerald (watch the movie). She started her final voyage from Superior, Wisconsin, in November of 1975 with cargo of iron ore pellets. By the next day, the Fitzgerald was caught in a severe storm with near hurricane-force winds, and waves 35 feet in height and sank. That is the same Superior we drove through, south of Duluth, to get here.

Crosby is part of the Cuyuna Iron Range. Although mining is no longer conducted here, it sure is alive further north to include the countries largest open-pit mining operation in Hibbing Minnesota. A neighbor was on vacation and interesting in RVing as part of his future retirement. I was interesting in what he had to say about working in the mines. The Hibbing operation is huge as seen in these Google Earth photos:

That’s Lake Superior on the right and Hibbing MN on the left. The brown cleared areas are the iron ore mines.
Open pit mines. Personally, I think the earth will fix itself someday and am glade we have mining technology/machinery that keeps men from crawling around in dangerous underground mines.

I’ve written it before; every RV park has something fascinating and unplanned to see in the area. In the case of Crosby City RV Park this would be the sight of Minnesota’s worst mining accident. Forty-one miners lost their lives, thirty-eight women lost their husband and eighty-three children lost their father in 1924 at the Milford Mine. This small county in Minnesota raised the money and built a truly well done memorial to those that died.

Old photos of the Milford Mine near Crosby Minnesota. Company housing was built around the mine where immigrants from many nations lived with their families.

If you want a look into the soul of an American, it can be found in the stories of these miners. They came from Finland, Sweden, Austria while some were second generation Americans. Having work in a mine was an opportunity they appreciated, far better than what they had back in their homeland. I read where many miners actually did not speak the same language but learned to get along and communicate as necessary. Kind of makes me think about where the accent came from when the locals speak around here.

The Milford Mine memorial includes a long boardwalk with a short story about each who died posted along the trail. What happened was an iron ore mine tunnel extended into a wet area of soil. Water pumps were standard equipment in mines. Unfortunately, one tunnel came too close to a local lake which in one catastrophic moment, drained into the mine shaft, drowning the workers. Help came in from area mines to recover the bodies. It was nine months before the last was found, even with men working 24 hours a day during the recovery.

Along the boardwalk are the names of those that dies and those that survived.
Markers of each that died. I read every one.
Location of the original mine shaft. Elsewhere on the property were foundations of older buildings and out in a lake, the location where water penetrated the shaft.

We are currently located just outside Theodore Roosevelt National Park in North Dakota. Wow – a really underrated park for sure. The American history is a fascinating as the geology of the place. We will be heading west into Montana shortly.