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Showing posts from August, 2009

Independence Rock

Monday, August 31, 2009
Little America, WY

We had all the hatches battened down, the toad hooked up, and the bus-house rolling out of our camp at Alcova before 9am this morning. Besides being a bit anxious to get going again we were motivated by predictions of strong westerly winds later in the day, and thought it'd be good for the diesel fuel budget to get as much of the drive in before the headwinds really kicked up.

But just about 26 miles from camp we found Independence Rock, a famous landmark used by westward travelers during the great migration of the 1840's, 50's, and 60's. WY-220 runs right past it and there is a large but little utilized wayside right at the Rock. We parked the bus-house and hiked over to see what we could learn.

From a distance it looks like the top half of a freshly baked loaf of bread. It's 1900 feet long, 850 feet wide, and about 130 feet high. Made out of solid granite, it's really the top of a mountain that was buried by erosional ac…

Best by a Dam Site

Sunday, August 30, 2009
Alcova, WY

The North Platte River has run through this mountainous and geologically active area for eons -- millions of years. Over that time it cut deep canyons into the surrounding rock as incredible forces uplifted, raised, the earth's crust. In the early 20th Century some of those canyons were used as dam sites, where a substantial dam could be built utilizing the canyon walls as part of the dam. That's just what happened here at Alcova Reservoir and just to the south, upriver on the North Platte, at Pathfinder Reservoir. We explored both today.

As I've written before, we're in high country. The surface of Alcova Reservoir is about 5,500 feet and the surface of Pathfinder is about 5,800 feet. And all around are exposed rock outcroppings of various colors and composition... red, tan, white, green... granite, an iron-rich shale, limestone and sandstone. Right here at Alcova Reservoir, there's a thick layer of deep red material... obviously an…

Into High Country

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Saturday, August 29, 2009
Alcova, WY

We left Fort Robinson this morning and continued west on US-20. A few miles down the road we came upon a small town -- Harrison, NE. -- that was like so many other small towns we passed through out here. The official population of Harrison is around 200, but I think they're counting their pets too. The speed limit on US-20 slows to 30mph, but there's no stopping -- you just slow down a bit and roll through town. About the time you slow down it's time to speed up again. We're talkin' small!

But somebody in Harrison has a good sense of humor. Approaching town there's a large green sign, that's been done to look like an Interstate Highway information sign, that proudly states "Harrison -- Next Four Exits". It went by so fast we could barely get a picture of it. And Dar counted exactly four streets that intersected with the highway. Needless to say we were grinning big the next few miles. What a hoot!

From Into Wyomin…

Not Busy in Nebraska

Friday, August 28, 2009
Fort Robinson State Park
Crawford, NE

We thought we'd take it a little easier today. The past two days have been go-go and I, for one, needed a break. A feature of this lifestyle is that you don't have to be busy all the time... as long as you can get over the guilt that can accompany solitude and being not-busy. I know people who are busy all the time, at least that's my observation. They can't sit still for more than a few minutes without doing something... they join groups, they are active in any number of organizations, they're fixing this, cleaning that, going to the gym, shopping, they're socializing regularly with friends and acquaintances... it's run here, run there, don't stop to catch your breath. I wonder if these people are compensating for something that's lacking in their lives? I don't know, but I do believe that one should live by a rule of moderation in all things and that balance is a key to a happy life.

As…

Toadstools and Gravel Roads

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Thursday, August 27, 2009
Fort Robinson State Park
Crawford, NE

Today was one of those days when I felt like I'm finally getting my act together with this web site and blog stuff. Before retiring last night, I updated the front page of our website as well as an writing an entry in The RV Sabbatical Journal. As a result, this morning I didn't have to start the computer -- or as I'm lovingly calling it these days... the "confuser" -- at all. Instead, we got up early and went out for a morning walk, to commune with nature, and to go get a hot breakfast at the little restaurant in the main Park office. OK, I'm sure the calories we burned during our walk were more than replaced in that egg, sausage, and hash brown breakfast, but it just felt good to get outside and not have to deal with any electronics for a while.

After breakfast we loaded up a very light picnic lunch, some portable water for hiking, all the necessary cameras and gear for a day of exploring, and hea…

Through the Sand Hills

Wednesday, August 26, 2009
Fort Robinson State Park
Crawford, NE

On Tuesday we made the enjoyable drive from Valentine to Fort Robinson State Park. Once again, US-20 didn't disappoint. There was amazingly little traffic and the road was in good condition -- and we savored the views of these ancient sand dunes -- the Sand Hills -- that have been stabilized by layers of soil and prairie plant growth. The Nebraska Sand Hills cover an area about 20,000 square miles... about a quarter of the State of Nebraska. Much of the area has never been plowed and, as such, is mostly intact natural habitat. As you drive along lonely US-20, as you look to the left or right, you're seeing what early pioneers saw well over a hundred years ago.

Beneath the Sand Hills is one of the largest aquifers in the world, the Ogallala Aquifer. Most of the water in this underground reservoir is from the last ice age. Since it recharges very slowly and discharges are increasing, mostly for irrigated agriculture, …

A Valentine Day

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Monday, August 24, 2009
Valentine, NE

So far, we've found our stay at Riverside Campground to be quite acceptable. It's an old decommissioned KOA Park, like a few others we've stayed in around the country. It's not the most modern but it's quiet, and there's the extra benefit of being right along the Niobrara River. We stopped at a couple other RV Parks in Valentine and we think we made the right decision. The only other one we would have considered was 3 miles north of town, out on an exposed hilltop with no mature trees or the resulting shade. The lack of refuge from the wind and sun convinced me we're at the right place -- for us.

We don't stay at the new KOA's (never have, probably never will) as they're expensive and really aimed at families with kids who want to swim in the heated pool, whoop and holler it up on the playground equipment, and take part in organized activities. We don't need, or want, any of that. We seek out quieter venues…

Crossing Into the West

Saturday, August 22, 2009
Valentine, NE

Yesterday, Friday, we were rolling early. Having made most of our pre-move preparations the night before, it was easy to have a semi-leisurely morning -- coffee, check email, etc. -- and get moving before 9am. The day started out cloudy and still windier than I'd like when driving a big "billboard" down the road. But as we progressed west the clouds gave way to mostly sunny skies and the wind subsided a bit. Overall it was an enjoyable and easy drive.

We followed NE-16 and NE-35 to Wayne and then NE-15 north to US-20. I've written this before, and probably will again, but traveling on these old main roads through the west is, in my humble opinion, the best way to go. For the most part, these roads are in reasonable shape, have very little traffic, and go through interesting places and towns that the faster Interstate Highways avoid. There are more hills and valleys than their modern counterparts but the travel experience is more r…

Algona to Pender

Thursday, August 20, 2009
Pender, NE

First, let me fess-up that yesterday was Dar & my anniversary. It's been 37 years since we tied the knot and we're still going strong. If there's any question about our compatibility and ability to be flexible, communicate, and to keep things in perspective... living together in 300 square feet for over two solid years without killing each other should say it all. A new theory of mine is that if you're truly compatible you can live together in any sized space, even a smaller space than the bus-house. But if you're not compatible, a 6,000 square foot mansion wouldn't be large enough.

Yesterday we pulled up the jacks in Algona and continued the trek westward. Dar had a very fruitful exploration of the history of her ancestors from her mother's side of the family, culminating in the discovery at the library of a parish history from the small town of St. Benedict near Algona. This is the area where her ancestors settled …

The Road to Algona, IA

Monday, August 17, 2009
Algona, IA

We pulled up stakes at Myre-Big Island State Park this morning and were rolling down I-35 into Iowa by a bit after 10am. Conditions were great for driving today with mild temps and winds. At Clear Lake we made a bend to the West on US-18 which took us the 50 miles to Algona.

Algona is the County Seat of Kossuth County, the largest county in Iowa geographically speaking. If you check out a county map of the state you'll see how orderly and equally sized all the Iowa counties are... except for Kossuth County. It appears someone forgot to draw the line dividing it into two so it'd match the rest. I haven't discovered the reason for that yet.

We found a really nice County Park about three miles north of Algona called Smith Lake. It has about 40 campsites and can handle our size camper. No full hookups, but we do have 50amp electric -- not that we need it.

The reason we're here is to do some research on some of Dar's ancestors. After quickl…

The Day the Music Died

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Saturday, August 15, 2009
Albert Lea, MN

A little over 50 years ago, early in the morning of February 3rd, 1959, a small plane crashed into a frozen field a few miles north of Clear Lake, IA. All four people aboard died. Besides the pilot, Roger Peterson, 21, they were all early pioneers and stars of the rock and roll movement in music that was beginning to take the country, and the world, by storm. They were Buddy Holly, 22, Ritchie Valens, 17, and J.P. "The Big Bopper" Richardson, 28.

They were on a Midwest tour called the "Winter Dance Party" which was to include concerts in 24 Midwestern cities in about three weeks. Joining the three stars was Dion and the Belmonts, and various other band members. On February 1st, they performed in Green Bay, WI., and then bussed it over to their date the very next night at the Surf Ballroom in Clear Lake -- a distance of more than 300 miles. I wonder if they drove right through Beaver Dam en route?

Apparently all the travel by bus…

Security?

Saturday, August 15, 2009
Albert Lea, MN

Dar and I were talking this morning, prompted by recent photos she was processing, about our explorations the past few days. We hit on an interesting observation.

When visiting the Minnesota State Capitol in St. Paul, I was surprised at the lack of security... no metal detectors, no guards... just walk in any door and look around.

But when visiting the SPAM Museum in Austin, the first thing we encountered on entering the parking lot was a uniformed guard in a checkpoint style guard shack. We stopped, he asked our business, we said we'd like to visit the museum, he said that'd be OK, and told us where to park. I guess we passed the test.

I wonder why the SPAM Museum needs guarding while the State Capitol does not?

T

The SPAM Museum

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Friday, August 14, 2009
Albert Lea, MN

How do you "top" seeing the State Capitol of Minnesota? How about the SPAM Museum?

We've heard about the SPAM Museum in Austin for many years, but have never had the chance to visit. My attitude was that it might be very nice but I'm just not going to drive very far out of my way to see a museum dedicated to a luncheon meat that keeps the coronary bypass industry so busy. But with us being camped just 20 miles west of Austin the time for a visit had arrived.

So on Thursday, I popped an extra statin, grabbed the camera, and we headed off on this unique exploration.
From Spam Museum
What we found exceeded my admittedly low expectations. It's a nicely done history of the Hormel Company and it's interesting flagship product, SPAM. The facility is clean and neat. The displays are professionally done and are effective in telling the story. The museum staff was friendly and fun.

Some facts: there are two plants in the USA that produce…

Minnesota State Capitol

Wednesday, August 12, 2009
Apple Valley, MN

Yesterday, Tuesday, Jim, Dar, and I made the trek to downtown St. Paul to see the Minnesota State Capitol. Sue had other plans for the morning.

This would be our 9th Capitol that we've explored. Since the legislature is not in session things were pretty low-key around the building -- no problem finding a shady parking spot and little congestion.

Built at the turn of the century and opened to the public in 1905, the architect and construction supervisor was Cass Gilbert, one of Minnesota's own.

The building is a grand neo-classical design built of a steel frame and clad on the outside with white Georgia marble and St. Cloud granite. The exterior detail is rich in symbolism and numerous statues of important figures of early Minnesota history. Dominating the center roof line is an immense golden quadriga -- a four horse chariot. There are two figures holding, controlling, the four horses which represent the classical elements of nature: eart…

Lake Minnetonka

Monday, August 10, 2009
Apple Valley, MN

It's time to remedy another long pause in this Journal. I suffer from a tendency to procrastinate at times and before I know it there's an 4 day hole that must be filled. So let's get to it.

We left Beaver Dam on Sunday the 9th of August, and headed northwest to the Twin Cities of Minnesota. It's been almost two years since we visited our good friends Jim & Sue at their home in Burnsville and with our westward travel plan this year we just couldn't pass up the opportunity to spend some quality time with them. We met these folks more than 20 years ago when we happened to buy a house right next door. Although we only lived in Burnsville for one very short year our friendship has endured for many more.

Our visits with Jim & Sue revolve around doing something outdoors and eating. On Monday the four of us put their boat in on Lake Minnetonka, probably the largest lake in the Twin Cities metro area. This was a first for us as …

Paradox

Thursday, August 6, 2009
Beaver Dam, WI

We're down to our last few days here in Beaver Dam and in Wisconsin for this year. We've done a lot in our time here... clearing land and installing an RV pad at the farm, shopping for and buying a new car, getting the new car ready for towing, selling the old toad, and being with family and friends. It's this last one that makes it hard to leave.

Of course, there isn't enough time. We knew when we got here what we'd like to accomplish during our short visit but we'll leave Sunday with things undone. It seemed that as we finished one thing, another one or two would be added to the list. There are still people we wanted to see, but time has evaporated faster than spit on an Arizona sidewalk. Perhaps one of these days we'll learn that people are more important than stuff and the tasks that come with having stuff.

Our histories are deep here. This is where both of us grew up. This is where we met each other. This is where bo…

Is it August Already?

Tuesday, August 4, 2009
Beaver Dam, WI

Both of us were happily surprised at how much fun we had at the EAA AirVenture show in Oshkosh last week. Despite being camped in an open field, without any hookups and closer to neighbors than we'd normally prefer, the overall experience surpassed our expectations. We got caught up with all the latest activity in the aviation world. We saw the best in areobatic flying. We saw WhiteKnight2 and the Airbus A-380. We got to know new friends, reconnected with old ones, and enjoyed time with family members that visited the show. Everyone was in good spirits, sharing an interest in aviation, and enjoying the creativity of people with a passion.

Because we were camped almost a mile from the flight line there was no lack of exercise last week. I'll bet we often walked 4 or 5 miles a day. And while the weather was not hot and humid, as it often is in early August in Wisconsin, being outside, on your feet in full sun can sap some energy too. The resul…