Enjoying July

We stayed at a variety of campgrounds the latter part of July. Swiss Valley Park near Dubuque is one of our favorites, but will allow camping for only 14 days at a time. We stayed there as long as we could, and while there we talked to the head ranger Brian about becoming camp hosts for Dubuque County. He told us that all their parks, with the exception of Mud Lake, had camp hosts for the remainder of 2014 season. Massey Marina had a permanent camp host, Findleys Landing and Swiss Valley were covered till fall closing, but Mud Lake had no camp host all season. We filled out an application, then headed for Grant River for a couple of weeks.
We stopped in to talk to Brian again when we returned to Dubuque in early August. Our motorhome was getting an oil change, so we had a few hours to waste. Brian offered us the job as camp hosts at Mud Lake, for the remainder of the season, and we accepted.

When we arrived at Mud Lake later that day, we couldn’t park at the camp host site as it was occupied. There were plenty of sites free so we chose another and two days later moved our motorhome to that site. Because they hadn’t had a camp host for so long, they had been using the camp host site for a handicapped site. It was next to the bath house, close to the wood shed, and had a cement pad. It did not have sewer hookup, but did have water and electric. The ranger who lives at this campground, Dan, was new to the job (about one year), and very helpful. Our duties were to help people register, keep the main shower house/bathrooms clean and stocked with supplies, and to check the pit toilets for paper. We were to notify the ranger on duty of any problems that came up, or if we needed anything.

We were happy to have a free RV site for the rest of our time in the Dubuque area. We hoped for lots of visits from family and friends, and planned some family visits of our own.

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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.

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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.

Sierra Leone MHP

Entrance to Park

Entrance to Sierra Leone MHP

Manager's Office

Manager’s Office

Teppee Road just outside the park.

Teppee Road just outside the park.

Pool and Spa area

Pool and Spa area

We have a large site, with orange trees at the back and a palm tree on one side.

We have a large site, with orange trees at the back and a palm tree on one side.

We moved to Sierra Leone Mobile Home Park on the day after Thanksgiving. Knowing that we would have to leave by the 11th of January, we didn’t want to take the chance of not finding a new park for the winter. Sierra Leone is a park that belongs to the same corporation that owns Meridian RV park, and the managers-Don and Mary- are friends with the managers of Meridian so it was an easy transition for us. The rent at Sierra Leone, because it is a smaller park with fewer amenities and activities, is about $75.00 a month less. We plan to save money during the winter months for our travels during the spring, summer, and fall.

We have met quite a few people already at our new home. Although the park is smaller, it has everything we need; mail service, flat and paved streets, a spacious recreation hall with activities scheduled during the week, a laundry room, pool and spa, and on site managers who are readily available. This park offers bingo, card and domino games, quilting, a small library, coffee and donuts weekly, pancake breakfasts, bus rides to area casinos and shopping, potlucks and special occasion gatherings. The work campers help wherever they can to meet the needs of the people who live here.

We have found the other residents in the park to be very friendly and welcoming. There are a few who keep mostly to themselves, who we don’t see at the social events. Some are quite elderly, and have their own pursuits and amusements. When Joan takes Smoke for his daily walks, he has been a good ice breaker. People will come out of their mobile homes or RVs when they see a cat walking on a leash. Even those who aren’t really “cat people” are fascinated with a cat who goes for walks. And the cat lovers fuss over him, petting and talking to him-which Smoke doesn’t object to. He enjoys all the attention he has been getting.

We plan to stay here at Sierra Leone until the first part of April, and possibly a little longer-depending on the weather in Iowa. If there are warm days, we will head back in that direction. We will slowly make our way back to the Dubuque, Iowa area once it gets above freezing temps at night. Although our motorhome furnace works quite well, it doesn’t keep the motorhome warm enough for us when it’s bitter cold. Not to mention going out into cold weather; both of us have arthritis which makes the joints hurt in the cold and damp.

It is starting to look a lot like Christmas here at Sierra Leone MHP. Joan helped the women decorate the rec hall for Christmas with trees, wreaths, poinsettas, and various other Christmas decor. David helped outside, stringing lights on the main buildings. We got a few small decorations for our motorhome; putting a tabletop tree outside as Smoke would not leave it alone when we had it in our home. He seems to think that Christmas decorations are toys for him! David put a strand of colored lights on the palm tree next to our motorhome, a wreath on the windshield, a Christmas flag on our metal flag holder, and has rope lights around our patio. The park managers will draw 3 names of people who have decorated outside, and are giving away $10 to the lucky winners. There are Christmas cookie exchanges, a Christmas pagent, and Christmas dinner (Dec. 25) scheduled. Most of the people who come here during the winter have already arrived, and only a few will get here after the holidays. About 20 households live here year round, not minding the hotter weather at all.

We haven’t decided if we will send Christmas cards this year; will wait to see if the mood strikes us. So far, we are exploring the area; have gotten a library card, found several great shopping areas and restaurants, and made some new friends. Smoke seems to be quite content living in our motorhome; he enjoys his walks and the occasional ride in the Jeep. He just loves having his humans home with him, and is very affectionate and appreciative of all the attention he is getting.

New Mexico

Thankfully, the weather was warmer in New Mexico, although we discovered that the temperature dropped quite a bit at night. We picked up some brochures at the Visitors Center in eastern New Mexico, and one was a brochure on state parks. Camping fees in New Mexico state parks are only $14 a night for an electric site and this included the daily park fee. We stayed at Storrie Lake State park near Las Vegas, New Mexico for several nights. We had thought there was only one Las Vegas; the city in Nevada, and were surprised to find another with the same name.

Las Vegas is a very old city; most of the buildings there are on the Historic Register, many are hundreds of years old. We toured two sections of the city, Old Town and West Las Vegas. Many different styles of architecture, plazas, Mexican bakeries, and lots of restaurants. One of Joan’s favorite buildings was in West Las Vegas, the Plaza Hotel, which had undergone a complete restoration. The desk clerk graciously showed us some of the public areas, and gave us information on the building, it’s history, and a story about a ghost who haunted his favorite rooms.

Our next stop was Santa Fe. This turned out to be our favorite place in New Mexico. We stayed at Hyde Memorial State Park northeast of Santa Fe, in the mountains. The campground was at approximately 6000 feet, and the 8 electrical sites were on a hillside, but the pads were fairly level. The couple next to us were from Texas, and planned to relocate to the area; next to them was a couple on vacation from British Columbia, and a little further down the road was a very young couple from South Carolina-they were renting out their home and traveling in their motorhome for a “year or two” to see the country. We shared a campfire with all three of these couples for several nights. During the daytime, we toured Old Santa Fe, stopped at the Loretto Chapel with the circular staircase and to the Basilica of St. Francis. We went to several different districts, stopped in at a few interesting looking shops, and ate fantastic Mexican and American food. Did lots of walking, went on a couple of scenic rides in the area, and saw some great views on the top of the mountain where our campground was located. By our third night there, it was getting down into the 20’s at night, and snow was forecast for the area, 3-6 inches. We decided to head west.

We spent 6 nights in Albuquerque; staying at Leisure Mountain campground on the east side of the city for 3 nights; went on the Turquoise Trail, rode up to the top of the Sandia Crest (about 10,100 feet) for a magnificent view of New Mexico, spent a very interesting day in Madrid, New Mexico (one of the towns on the Turquoise trail) where parts of the movie “Wild Hogs” were filmed. We relocated to a campground on the west side of Albuquerque, right on Route 66, called the Enchanted Trails. It was a very nostalgic campground, and the office was in a building that had been a trading post in the 1940’s-it was adobe, and decorated inside with many vintage furnishings.  There were several vintage travel trailers that could be rented on weekends, and we took a peek inside a couple. They were furnished with items from the 50’s and 60’s right down to linens and kitchenware. This campground was close to several places we visited over the next 3 days-Old Town, Downtown, and Nob Hill. We also went to the Route 66 casino, and Dave won a little money. Joan broke even, so we considered ourselves lucky. The weather was again getting a little cooler than we liked, so we headed for Arizona on October 20th.

Northern Black Hills

We did go back to Custer State Park and attended an Art Festival there, saw Wind Cave National Park, drove through Hot Springs, and drove on Needles Hiway. We saw lots of wildlife, especially when we took some of the gravel roads in Custer State Park; actually driving slowly are carefully through a herd of buffalo. Some were so close that we could have touched them. We saw a lone coyote in Wind Cave National Park, a herd of antelope, and many prairie dogs.

September 30th, we headed north for Belle Fourche, and stayed two nights at the Playground Campground, only $12 per night for full hookups with our Passport America card. It isn’t the kind of campground we would stay at for an extended period, but adequate for 1 or 2 nights. There is an old school building, and 12 RV sites on the property; rooms can be rented in the schoolhouse where the bathrooms and showers are located. There is no dump station, but WiFi is included free of charge. We have already saved more in the 2 weeks since we joined Passport America than the yearly fee of $44.00 so it was well worth getting this membership. We drove through Spearfish, and checked out Lead and Deadwood-picking up some brochures at the visitor’s center in Lead. While we were there, we toured the above ground exhibit for the Homestake Mine.

Today, we traveled to Devil’s Tower in Montana, not realizing that with the government shutdown National Monuments as well as the National Parks would be closing. We were able to get close enough to the monument to take some pictures, but weren’t able to take the road which would get us to the usual observation area. We went back to South Dakota and spent the rest of the day in Deadwood. We took a narrated tour on a trolley, about an hour long; it was very informative and gave us an idea of the places we wanted to stop. After getting off the trolley, we did the walking tour downtown; going to #10 Saloon and seeing the indoor show with the shooting of Wild Bill, then went to the Midnight Star and enjoyed all of the Kevin Costner memorabilia from his movies, toured several historic buildings, went to the Adam’s Museum, and to a casino for the evening meal (neither of us are gamblers). We will head out in the morning, going south through the eastern side of Wyoming-as the National Parks will be closed-and plan to come back to Wyoming in the future.