Big Woods

Our next opportunity as camphosts started June 1st, for 2 weeks, at Big Woods Lake in Cedar Falls, Iowa. This campground has mostly full hookups, a small tenting and electric section, new bathhouse/shower building, and a large cabin. It is located adjacent to Big Woods Lake, and has direct access to paved bike trails. Free WiFi is included, and it is high speed and reliable. As camphosts at Big Woods, our duties were light, checking on bathrooms and stocking toilet paper and paper towels, sweeping out showers between cleanings (done every Monday and Friday by park employees), selling firewood and assisting campers in finding sites and answering questions.

Image

The camphost site at Big Woods is close to the ranger’s house, and the fire shed is on the site, making this job very easy. We enjoyed our time here at Big Woods, working in a smaller campground, with less daily duties. Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday most weeks are very quiet; allowing camp hosts to take time off to run errands, visit family or friends, or enjoy time away from the campground.

image
While at Big Woods, Joan’s brother Lyle and his wife Cindy camped there for a couple of days, and we visited them at their home several times, and we enjoyed eating meals out with them. We have some favorite stores we go to whenever in this area, a great coffee shop in downtown Cedar Falls, and bought several items at Camping World.
Father’s Day was spent at Lyle and Cindys, and we enjoyed seeing their children and grandchildren. We had plans to see our son David once we got back to Dubuque after June 22nd to celebrate his birthday, as well as Father’s Day.
Our time in Cedar Falls/Waterloo area went quickly, and we decided to stay at Blackhawk Park just a mile away after our camphosting was completed. Our annual Potter Family (Joan’s family) campout was scheduled for June 19th through June 22nd at Hickory Hills in LaPorte City which is just south of Waterloo. Rather than drive back to Dubuque to get mail we had it mailed to the Cedar Falls post office. We then headed for Blackhawk Park, where we would camp a few days before we went to Hickory Hills.

Advertisements

Hickory Hills

We arrived at Hickory Hills shortly after noon on May 18th, and set up camp in the Camp Host site. Al Funke, the park ranger stopped by shortly after we arrived to give us the keys, along with change we would need for selling wood; he couldn’t stay very long but left camp host instructions and told us he would be back later to further explain our duties. He was true to his word and returned that evening. We enjoyed visiting with him, and learning about the camp host responsibilities.

View of the campground and lake from the Camp Host site. We never got tired of this beautiful view.

View of the campground and lake from the Camp Host site. We never got tired of this beautiful view.

Smoke, the camp host cat.

Smoke, the camp host cat.

 

Our campsite at Hickory Hills, with full hookups.

Our campsite at Hickory Hills, with full hookups.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The first few days we hosted at Hickory Hills were quiet. Several campers pulled in, their owners filled out the registration envelope and paid for their campsite and then left to go back to work until the start of the Memorial Day weekend. All of the reserved sites were taken months before, so all that remained were the “first come, first served” sites. By Tuesday evening many of the non-reservable sites were occupied, and by Thursday evening only a few campsites were left. The hill across from the cabins was dotted with tents, with more tents perched behind RV’s and next to cabins. People who had brought in campers earlier in the week returned to the campground in droves, and by Friday night the campground was filled with happy campers.

The campground is full.

The campground is full.

At first, our job as camp hosts was easy; Tuesday night Dave sold a few armloads of wood. We cleaned the bathrooms on Wednesday morning and again on Thursday morning. By Thursday evening Dave was selling wood by the wheelbarrow full, and we were making frequent trips to clean and restock the bathrooms and showers in the bath house. Friday and Saturday became very hectic; we were thinking that maybe we made a mistake in volunteering for weeks which included a holiday weekend. People had lots of questions about registration, some of the rules, and some needed help figuring out the whole process being new to camping. We went to bed very late, and got up early in order to keep up with everything we needed to do.

But by noon on Sunday, most of the campers were gone. “Tent Hill” was bare, with only a few smoldering fires in the fire rings. A lone flip flop and a few pop cans were all that remained to indicate that hundreds of people had been in the campground over the weekend. We made a final cleanup in the bathrooms and showers; scrubbed everything down, and disposed of the trash. We collapsed in a heap afterwards, and got some much needed rest in our lounge chairs. After we felt a little better, it was time to get the “gator” from the ranger and collect all the reserved and reservation slips, leaving those on the posts of the campsite which were still occupied; only a few campers remained. We made a quick pass through the park, collecting any trash left behind; there was less than half a bag which we thought was remarkable considering how many people had been there-some for almost a week.

Although we had both felt somewhat overwhelmed with our camp host duties over Memorial Day weekend, we had to admit that in general the campers were very well behaved and didn’t make that much of a mess in the bathrooms and showers. Considering how many people used the facilities, it could have been much worse. So many campers thanked us for helping them, for answering questions, and everyone seemed to be having a great time. It made us both feel much appreciated, and it did our hearts good to see how happy people were to be enjoying the warm and sunny weekend; especially the children.

Smoke did a great job as Camp Host Cat. We set up his tent under the awning of the motorhome. He stayed outside with us many hours each day, while Dave was selling wood, and Joan helped people with registering. We found that it worked better if we sat outside where people could see us. Our campsite was close enough to the registration booth that we could greet people as they came in and answer any questions they had. Many people were intrigued by Smoke, none had ever seen a cat in a tent before and he was definitely an added attraction at Hickory Hills. Each time Joan took him for a walk around the park, people would stop to see the cat on a leash, would want to know how he was trained to walk like that, and the children especially enjoyed getting close up with such a friendly cat. Smoke received much petting and attention during our stay at Hickory Hills.

We will be returning to Hickory Hills as camp hosts for two more weeks in August. Both of us really enjoyed our first experience of volunteer work at a campground; it is definitely something we will do again as long as we are able to handle the work.

 

Noah

So much has happened in the past few weeks.  We stopped at the UPS store to pick up our mail from the last 6 weeks and there was also a cardboard box of magazines and catalogues (several month’s worth) they had set aside for us. We have been very satisfied with their mailbox service.

Both of us have had our yearly physicals with labs. Joan has had a mammogram, saw a foot doctor and had an eye exam. We have a couple more appointments during the summer, and hope to be finished with all our medical needs by early September.  We have also been taking care of business at our bank, stopping in to see family, friends and old neighbors here in Iowa.

We left Swiss Valley Park May 5th, and set up our Motorhome at Grant River Park, near Potosi Wisconsin. It is a Corps of Engineers park along the Mississippi River, with great views of the river, and beautiful sunsets. It is one of our favorite campgrounds, and a favorite with retires, as a site is only $8-9.00 with a senior pass. We reserved a site until May 18th when we will leave for Hickory Hills campground in LaPorte City where we will be camp hosts for two weeks.

The weather has been cooler than normal since we arrived at Grant River. There have been many thunderstorms and it has rained almost every day. The rangers have been on the verge of closing the campground several times. The Mississippi River has been over flood stage from about May 7th through May 13th. We have kept a very close eye on the weather reports, and flood warnings. Several campsites in the park, as well as the road to those campsites were flooded up until a couple of days ago. The camp host, and rangers ride through the park often, making sure that none of the campers here are in danger of being trapped by the floodwaters.

Surprisingly, the campground is mostly full on the weekend. During the first week of May we had the campground mostly to ourselves from Monday through Friday morning, however this week (now that the floodwaters have receded) campers have been pulling in each day. The camp host says that all the reserved sites will be full by the weekend, and she expects most of the other sites will also be taken. It is very cool today and tomorrow, and won’t get up into the 60s and 70s for a few more days.

We are looking forward to warmer weather, and to seeing the sun again. Both of us enjoy being outside most of the time, but haven’t been able to spend much time outside the last two weeks. We have made a couple of trips into Dubuque to visit Dave’s sister and her husband and to do some shopping. We also went to Lancaster, Wisconsin a couple of times; there is a factory in Lancaster that builds modular homes and has free scrap wood that makes excellent kindling. We loaded up on this free wood for future campfires, and did laundry while in town. Spent a day at Platteville, stopping at the Goodwill store, Menards, and Walmart for some groceries.

Most of our time has been spent at the campground. Some friends who were also neighbors of ours from Dubuque joined us May 9th, and another couple from Platteville who camp here frequently joined our group a few days later. They are friends and camping buddies for about two years now. It has really helped pass the time with faithful friends to keep us company. We sat outside around a campfire with all of them, whenever the weather wasn’t too cold and wet!

We are looking forward to our weeks ahead as camp hosts, and if it doesn’t stop raining, we may be building a boat, as Noah did.

Back in Iowa

We made it into Iowa April 17, and stopped at a campground near Mount Pleasant, Iowa for one night. Then we headed to the Coralville Lake area south of Iowa City and Cedar Rapids. There are several Corp of Engineer Campgrounds on this lake, and three opened April 15th. We chose Tailwater West which had cement pads and electric/water sites, and a few full hookup sites. We stayed at this campground for several days, notified various family members that we were going to be there through Easter weekend. We had visits from quite a few of Joan’s brothers and sisters that weekend. It was SO GOOD to see family again; we had really missed them over the long winter away. For the most part, the weather was sunny although windy and not quite as warm as we would have liked. We did have a campfire a couple of times during our stay, which we really enjoy doing. Went for several walks, a bike ride one day, and did some shopping in the Coralville area. David was so happy to be in a HyVee grocery store again, as he really likes their produce and deli departments.

Image

Cheers to Iowa

After leaving Coralville, we headed to George Wyth State Park in the Cedar Falls area. We had been corresponding with Blackhawk County Parks before we left Arizona to ask about volunteer camp host openings for Summer 2014. We heard back from the ranger for Big Woods and Blackhawk parks in early April, giving us open dates for camp hosts. We had signed up for an opening at Big Woods from June 1-15th. We got the phone number for the ranger in charge of Hickory Hills and called him shortly before we got into Iowa. We met him at Hickory Hills April 21st and signed up for the weeks of May 18-31, and again in August 1-17. We are looking forward to our camp host weeks, and to having a free RV site with full hookups for the weeks we are hosting. At Hickory Hills we will keep the main bathrooms cleaned and trash emptied, and will sell firewood. At Big Woods we will sell firewood, and help keep bathrooms clean and stocked with toilet paper.

While staying at George Wyth, we visited with Joan’s brother Lyle and his wife Cindy. We enjoyed spending time with the couple who had camped most often with us through the years, in good weather and in bad. Often, we would camp with them early, or late in the camping season-before the bathrooms were open or after they had closed. The weather this spring is much cooler than usual. We are thinking we should have stayed in Arizona longer, and shouldn’t have come back to Iowa so soon!

We left George Wyth state park April 23rd, and stopped at Swiss Valley Park outside Dubuque. This is a county park only a few miles west of Dubuque, located in a valley in a somewhat protected area; there are several rainy and stormy days predicted toward the end of the month. The bathrooms have just recently opened, and we found an electric/water site close to the bathroom.  We have our yearly physicals scheduled for May 2nd, a family graduation May 4th, and want to stay in the area long enough to get various goals completed. Smoke has his yearly checkup on April 29th and we want to visit with David’s sister and husband and some of our friends we haven’t seen for a long time. We plan to stay at Swiss Valley until May 5th, and then head for the Corp of Engineers park in Potosi Wisconsin, which is about 15 miles from Dubuque.

Missouri

We made our way out of Seneca, Missouri after washing the Motorhome. Took quite a bit of time to clean it thoroughly as it had been almost 2 months since getting a wash and wax job while still in Arizona. And we had been doing some desert camping with winds and red dust; the motorhome really needed a cleaning. After checking our iPhone app “Allstays RV”, we noticed there were quite a few Corp of Engineer parks in Missouri so we picked out a park near Stockton, which would take us about 1/3 of the way across Missouri. The campground wasn’t officially open until April 15th, and there was no attendant. The outhouse type bathrooms were open, as well as the dump station. We filled up our water tank, and decided to stay for several days. Got a real bargain with our senior discount, as well as the early camping discount which brought the rate down to $4.50 per night for electric sites!

We had a mishap while driving a county round to the CORP park near Stockton. Work was being done on a bridge, which was down to a single lane. A county truck had parked on the bridge, taking up over half the width of the bridge. David thought there was enough room to take our wide-body motorhome across; unfortunately, there wasn’t! Our passenger mirror caught the edge of a mirror on the side of the county truck. It damaged our mirror head, and a trooper had to be called to evaluate the accident. Fortunately, he determined that we were not at fault and we were soon on our way with the help of some duct tape. We called Velvac, the company who manufactures this model of RV mirror and ordered a new mirror head. Luckily the mirror arm and the wiring were not damaged and we could do the repair ourselves. We were shocked at the almost $300 cost of just the mirror head, but couldn’t drive safely without it.

We stayed at Stockton Lake until the mirror head arrived at a UPS store in Springfield, Missouri several days later.  Velvac would not ship to a post office; any orders had to be shipped to a home or business address. The closest UPS store was in Springfield Missouri, about a 45 minute drive from Stockton. They did not charge for delivery to their store, but would charge $5 per day if they had to hold the package for us; we decided to use this store for the shipping address. Thanks to UPS tracking, we could keep an eye on the status of our package and knew when to pick it up.

The couple camping next to us at Stockton Lake lived only an hour away; they had camped at this park for 6 weeks each spring and fall for many years. Mary showed us a cell phone booster they had found at Radio Shack which worked almost everywhere to get them better cell phone service. We hadn’t been able to use our cell phones or WiFi hotspot in some of the state and county parks, or in most CORPS parks we have stayed; they are usually located near lakes and rivers in rural areas, where there often is no cell phone coverage. While in Springfield, we stopped at a Radio Shack store and got the Wilson car kit along with a DC to AC adapter so we could use the kit either with electric or 12volt power. Using this kit, it boosted the signal from one bar to three bars which is enough to make phone calls, check emails, or browse many web sites; it bogs down with video clips and we can’t post photos but it meets our needs. There are still spotty areas where we don’t get service; but it does help tremendously as we now have cell phone coverage almost everywhere we go. And the kit with adapter was around $100 which is quite reasonable.

One of our first nights at the Stockton Lake park, we experienced some very stormy weather. There had been thunderstorms earlier in the day, and by late afternoon there were tornado warnings, with possible hail and very high winds for much of northwest Missouri. We kept a close eye on the weather, and checked the iPhone NOAA radar app at least every 15 minutes. We were very glad we had bought the cell phone booster so we had weather information on a continuous basis. We decided to stay in our motor home instead of heading for a shelter in the campground; there were some scary moments as the wind was very strong, and the camper was rocking. But the weather app on our phone showed that the more severe weather was to our north and would miss us. It turned out to be very correct as to current conditions and warnings.

While camping at Stockton Lake, we made a few trips into several small towns in this area. There wasn’t much we wanted to see along the route we would take into Iowa; no tourist attractions or activities, mainly rolling hills and farms/ranches. Some of the more interesting areas of Missouri were in other parts of the state; to the south towards Branson, around Lake of the Ozarks, St. Louis; we didn’t have much extra time for sightseeing.  The weather was cool, in the 50s and low 60s most days and down into the 40s at night. We spent most of our time just relaxing and enjoying the peace and quiet in this beautiful park, which we had almost to ourselves.

Our campsite at Stockton Lake.

Our campsite at Stockton Lake.

Stockton Lake, green grass and trees; a welcome sight after being in the desert so long.

Stockton Lake, green grass and trees; a welcome sight after being in the desert so long.

Only a few campers at Stockton Lake; the season didn't officially start until April 15th.

Only a few campers at Stockton Lake; the season didn’t officially start until April 15th.

 

We left Stockton Lake April 15th, and heading east and north. We were both getting rather anxious to get into Iowa by the 3rd week of April. We made it as far as the Jefferson City area in northeast Missouri. By this time Smoke had had enough of traveling (he gets very restless if we go more than 150 miles at a time) and we had been on the road for several hours. Even with a walk at a rest area along the way, Smoke was getting upset. We found a nice county park, Binder Park, on the edge of Jefferson City. The facilities were top notch; sites had cement pads and there was even a laundry room in the bath house. It was a small park with only about 15 sites, but they had a camp host and the nightly rate was only $15 for electric. Each site had a covered picnic table, fire ring and barbecue grill and a lantern hook. We only stayed for one night, but were able to do our laundry. It had been many years since we paid only $1 to wash and 50 cents to dry.

We were so close to Iowa the next morning that we decided to leave Missouri and camp in southern Iowa even if it meant driving longer than usual. We were a little concerned about the weather forecast for the Dubuque, Iowa area, so we decided to head for the Coralville Lake area south of Cedar Rapids/Iowa City.

Texas into Oklahoma

It was so windy during the time we were in Texas that we decided to move on. March 27th, we headed for Oklahoma. We stopped the first night at Heyburn Lake State Park near Foss, OK (which is a ghost town). We had the park almost to ourselves, and were happy to be able to have a campfire again. It had been months since we had sat outside by a fire. We enjoyed the grass and trees, although the grass wasn’t very green as it was early spring. The trees were just starting to bud, and there were lots of birds and squirrels which made Smoke very happy.

We visited Clinton OK, which has a large section of Route 66, along with a very comprehensive museum about Route 66. Each decade from the 1920’s on is represented in separate exhibits-complete with music playing from that era-that focus on what happened with Route 66 during that time period. It was a virtual timeline for the “Mother Road” and brought back many memories for us, of the 1950s and 1960s in particular.

Lake Thunderbird Park

Lake Thunderbird Park

After leaving the Lake Heyburn area, we headed for another state park, Lake Thunderbird, which wasn’t too far from Oklahoma City. While staying at this park, we visited the site of the Oklahoma City bombing, which is a National Memorial; a very moving exhibit. We walked the grounds outside, visiting the various areas and reading the placques which explain what each area represents.

 

 

Great view of the Lake

Great view of the Lake

 

Most of our time was spent at both of the state parks we stayed in. We did very little sightseeing or tourist type activities. Both of us were ready to kick back and relax. We had had enough of being tourists and were enjoying being in the country again. It reminded us of spring in Iowa, and how much fun it was to be at the campground before the summer season and the crowds would begin.

 

View of the Lake at Thunderbird Lake park.

View of the Lake at Thunderbird Lake park.

 

 

We enjoyed warm weather for most of the time we were in Oklahoma. The days were sunny, with only brief rain showers a couple of times. We went for leisurely walks, and Smoke got at least one walk in every day.

 

 

 

We headed east, stopping at a Casino near the Oklahoma and Missouri border. We had been on the road for several hours, and Smoke was getting restless and meowing so we knew it was time to stop. Indigo Sky Casino had an RV campground with utilities, and the rate for an electric site was only $10 a night. We had planned to stay only one night, but after discovering that they offered free wood for a fire, and a free laundromat for the campers-we decided to stay an additional night so we could get laundry done. This campground was a delight; very clean, well landscaped with soft lighting throughout at night. We particularly enjoyed sitting in the pavilion one night with a blazing fire in the stone fireplace. The restaurants inside the casino had very reasonable meals; the hotel and casino were both very tastefully decorated with a definite Southwestern theme. It wasn’t gaudy like so many other casinos we had seen.

Not too far from the casino was a car wash which had a large truck bay which would be big enough to was our motor home. Right after leaving the campground, we stopped at the car wash and gave the motor home a much needed bath.

Pavilion with fireplace at the Casino RV park.

Pavilion with fireplace at the Casino RV park.

RV Park at Indigo Sky Casino

RV Park at Indigo Sky Casino

Amarillo, Texas

Historic Route 66, Downtown Amarillo.

Historic Route 66, Downtown Amarillo.

After crossing the border between New Mexico and Texas, and listening to weather reports, we decided to spend a week in the Amarillo area. We didn’t want to go too far north as the weather predictions were for very cool weather for this time of year. The winds were picking up as we made our way to Amarillo; we reserved a week at the Oasis RV Resort. This is a very large RV Park, and although it is open all year, their pool and spa and exercise room were all closed until late April. The winds blew most of the time we stayed in Amarillo; sometimes gusting at 50-60 mph. Several times, we put in the slides as the winds were making the slide awnings flap so loudly and we didn’t want them to get damaged. The temperatures were rather cool, down into the high 50’s or low 60’s and several days were overcast.
We drove the Jeep on a couple of stretches of Route 66 in the area, and stopped at a strip of Route 66 downtown Amarillo which was in fairly good shape; the old buildings housed antique shops, restaurants, and other businesses. We went into a few of the shops and did some browsing and walking through the neighborhood.

Old Gas Station, Route 66

Old Gas Station, Route 66

Antique shop, Route 66

Antique shop, Route 66

restaurant

Art Deco building Route 66

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

We made a day trip in the Jeep to the Palo Duro Canyon State Park, south of Amarillo. This Canyon isn’t as large as the Grand Canyon but it is very similar looking. We drove the loop around the park, and also into the area with rock cabins that are available to rent, and into a couple of the campgrounds. This is a very large state park, with beautiful scenery.

Palo Duro Canyon State Park, view from Visitor's Center.

Palo Duro Canyon State Park, view from Visitor’s Center.

Several rock cabins, built by the Conservation Corps are available for rent.

Several rock cabins, built by the Conservation Corps are available for rent.

Jack Sisemore Traveland in Amarillo sells RV’s of all kinds; they also happen to have an RV museum right there at the dealership. We toured the museum, and had the pleasure of meeting Jack Sisemore himself. He has done a fantastic job with the museum; he has collected many vintage motorhomes, travel trailers, an early tent trailer, a teardrop trailer, and a bus from the movie “RV” with Robin Williams. As well as vintage cars, motorcycles, and the RV’s, the museum also holds a host of other camping and travel related memorabilia. It is well worth a visit for anyone who loves the RV lifestyle, and Mr. Sisemore is in the process of  completing an addition to the museum, with many fantastic surprises for future visitors. Jack has been in the RV business for many years, and is very knowledgeable about all aspects of the RV lifestyle, camping needs, has an impressive dealership with all types of RVs and accessories for sale. and he is a true southern gentleman.

Jack Sisemore with David

Jack Sisemore with David

"RV" movie bus

“RV” movie bus

There is even a mockup of a gas station inside the museum

There is even a mockup of a gas station inside the museum

Several vintage campers

More vintage campers

More vintage campers