On the Road Again

We had a farewell picnic for family and friends on September 13th. On the 14th we finished packing up everything from almost two months of staying in one place. September 15th we said goodbye to Ranger Dan and Mud Lake.
By evening we had covered over 250 miles and stayed at a campground in western Michigan. The second day we managed to get to Port Huron, Michigan, where we camped nearby. By that time, Smoke was getting pretty anxious about all the driving so we decided to take a break and do some sightseeing the next morning.
Port Huron has the oldest lighthouse in the state, and we both are lighthouse fans so that was first on our list.

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Next on our itinerary was a riverside park dedicated to those lost at sea. It was at the base of the bridge to Canada, with a great view of the Canadian skyline.

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Then we headed to downtown Port Huron for some window shopping, and had lunch at the Woodfire Grill. The food was very good, and we enjoyed the rustic ambience.
By the time we got back to the camper, Smoke was much calmer and we were able to get across the bridge into Canada and through the checkpoint with only a few plaintive meows.
We decided to stay at a small campground in Jordan Valley, about 25 miles west of Niagara, which would save on camping fees. We hadn’t realized before arriving at the campground that it was on a wine trail and close to numerous wineries, farm markets, and cheese factories.

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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.

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.

Route 66 in New Mexico

After leaving Las Cruces, New Mexico, we headed northeast, stopping in Alamagordo for a day of sightseeing. First on the list was the White Sands Missle Base. We had to park in a lot outside the base and walk inside, went through the check-in process, and spent a couple of hours looking at displays outside, as well as the museum inside. It brought back memories of disaster drills when we were kids in school during the 1950’s.

Outside display of missles, small planes and other assorted military items.

Outside display of missles, small planes and other assorted military items.

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You can see the haze in the air from the White Sands dunes.

Then we headed for the White Sands National Monument. We stopped at the Visitor Center first, to ask if it would be safe to drive through with our motorhome and tow behind, and they said we shouldn’t have a problem making the loop. Couldn’t believe how white the sand was; it looked just like snow.

Road into the Dunes.

Road into the Dunes the sand was  piled so high by the wind in places that it looked like gigantic snow drifts.

We headed for the Space Museum in Alamagordo next, spending several hours there and at the IMAX theatre next door. The theater was showing a documentary about the Hubbel Satellite which we found very interesting. By the time we got finished we were ready to call it a day. Both of us were very tired from all the walking we had done. We stopped for one night only at a very small RV park attached to the Sands Hotel, in Carrizozo, NM. We didn’t even take the time to unhook the Jeep, as neither one of us had the energy by that time.

The next morning, we headed east, and were able to drive over parts of Route 66 through several small towns. We stopped at Tucumcari, which has quite a few of the old buildings left. Sadly, many are abandoned or in very poor condition. We did see several which are being restored, or have been altered for new businesses. We stayed in Tucumcari for several days at an RV park with a Route 66 motel in the process of being restored. Joan saw an eye doctor there as she was still having occasional irritation and dryness in her left eye; the doctor prescribed a steroid eye drop and an ointment for night-time. By the time we left, her eye was doing much better.

On the way out of New Mexico, we stopped at a truck stop for a break; Russel’s Travel Center at Endee, New Mexico right before crossing into Texas. This is this best truck stop we have ever seen; not only do they have the usual truck stop services, but there is a free Route 66 Museum that rivals many of the museums charging fees. There is also a Diner, a chapel, and a fully stocked convenience store and gift shop. While in the museum we met the owner’s son, and he told us about his father and his collection of Route 66 items and vintage automobiles.

Entrance from inside the truck stop to the Museum

Entrance from inside the truck stop to the Museum

Many vintage cars, most from the 50's and 60's.

Many vintage cars, most from the 50’s and 60’s.

Western and Wild West memorabilia

Western and Wild West memorabilia

Many Elvis, Marilyn Monroe, and other stars were represented.

Many Elvis, Marilyn Monroe, and other stars were represented.

New Graphics for our Motorhome

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While still living in our traditional home back in Iowa, Joan had gone online to find businesses which replaced-or painted-RV graphics. She found several in the Phoenix or Mesa area, and read several RV forums and blogs to find customer reviews of these businesses. One name kept popping up, and one business had overwhelmingly positive reviews. RV Stripes and Graphics, a father & sonowned business, in Mesa AZ, was mentioned repeatedly in blogs and forums. Joan sent pictures of our Motorhome to them, and within a couple of days, we had an estimate. Joan had also submitted photos and info to a couple of other businesses in the area for both applied and painted graphics. Painting the graphics would be approximately twice the cost of vinyl graphics, so we decided to get vinyl.

Joan and Steve (son of the owner) communicated back and forth during the months before we left Iowa, and shortly after arriving in Apache Junction, we visited their shop. Steve gave us color samples, reviewed the process he would use to replace the graphics, and we gave him a deposit. The week of January 6th was reserved for our Motorhome, and Steve told us we could park in the back of his shop during the time our Motorhome was there. Steve helped us pick out some complementary colors which were more contemporary, but not too different from the original colors.

Our Motorhome graphics were deteriorating quickly, and detracted from the appearance of our motorhome, so we were eager to get them replaced. January 6th (which happened to be our 46th wedding anniversary) finally came and we moved to the lot behind RV graphics. Steve, his father, and the rest of the crew, didn’t waste any time getting to work.

First came the removal of the old graphics, along with glue residue and dirt. While the crew did this dirty work outside, a computer whiz took measurements and other data and fed all this into a computer program which enabled cutting of the replacement graphics- which would be slightly larger so as to cover “shadows” of the old graphics.

Here is our home with all the old graphics removed:

Here are photos of the time consuming process of installing new graphics:
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Here are some pictures of our Motorhome after the completed job, and after Tubby’s RV Mobile Wash came to our campsite to thoroughly clean and hand wax our home. Tubby and his crew did a great job, and our home looks like new again.
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