Showing posts from April, 2010

Small Rocks and Bright Lights

I see I have some "catching-up" to do. We've been sooo relaxed the past few days, working on projects and writing in the Journal have suffered in lieu of building campfires and watching the 'ol Miss flow past our campsite. After visiting with our Cedar Falls friends on Monday evening, and after a very good nights sleep, we finally had everything ready for another day of travel by 10am on Tuesday. The drive was an easy one... about 130 miles, mostly eastward, to Dubuque, across the US-151 bridge over the Mississippi River, and just a little further to the town of Dickeyville. From there the bus-house took us northward on WI-35/US-61 to the twin communities of Tennyson and Potosi, and down a rustic road to the Grant River Corps of Engineers Campground situated hard along the banks of the big river. We camped here during the Fall of 2008 [ link to Journal article ] and thoroughly enjoyed it. Grant River COE has about 60 campsites for RV's and a few additional for

Evening with Friends

It's 10pm and we just got back from a very enjoyable dinner and evening with some of our Sandollar Texas friends... David & Carol Ann and Andy & Betty. Thanks, all of you guys, for a fun evening. We'll see you all next winter. Earlier this morning, amid remnants of light rain left over from the storm of the past few days, we left that great campsite at Lake Red Rock and headed north to the Waterloo/Cedar Falls area, where our aforementioned friends live. It was an easy drive, and only 120 miles. We found a convenient campsite at Black Hawk County Park, and get this... with full hook-ups. It's been a couple weeks since doing laundry so we're taking advantage of this opportunity to catch up in that department a little too. But our Cedar Falls stop is a short one and we'll be on the road again tomorrow... Tuesday. We'd like to spend a few days at another Corps of Engineers campground in Southwest Wisconsin before we wrap up this leg of the Sabbatical.


Since Friday a big storm system hanging around the Upper Midwest has been responsible for a spell of "stay-inside" weather and the more than 3 inches of rain that was in the rain gauge this morning. Today, while the rain abated somewhat, it's been just nasty outside -- cold wind, drizzle -- you just want to curl up around the heater with a book (or a PC if you've got I.A.D. like me) and let it blow. Warmer days are ahead. Since we're parked below Red Rock Dam and right on the banks of the Des Moines River it's good to have confidence in the U.S. Government and the Corps of Engineers if you want to get a restful night's sleep in this campground. You see, the lake above the dam is fairly full. Heavy winter snows in Iowa recently melted and nearly filled the lake. Sure, you say, but they could just let more water out -- pull the plug on the old bathtub and let 'er drain out. But you'd be wrong, at least if you care about the good people of Ottumwa I

The Drug Buy

I take a daily medication to help keep a mild case of hypertension in check. Normally, my doctor writes a prescription for a 90 day supply with three refills... a years worth of this med... during my annual physical exam. That prescription is then sent in to the drug provider designated by my health care insurance plan. When it's time to order another 90 day refill, I go online and place the order, paying a co-pay of $15. The prescription is then filled and the medication sent via US mail. Because of our nomadic lifestyle, it get's sent to my "address" -- my top-notch mail-forwarding service in Beaver Dam, Wisconsin. The next bundle of mail from our forwarding service that gets sent to us along the trail will then include the prescription med that, by the time I get it, has traveled more miles than a near-sighted cat being chased by the hood ornament of a cross-country Mack truck. Well, the other day I noticed that the number of pills left in my last bottle of this

Courthouse Stories

Official records from the mid-1800's can be unreliable, error-prone, or missing altogether. That's what we found during our visit to the Marion County Courthouse on Thursday. According to the County Register, records of births, deaths, and marriages weren't mandatory until 1940, and prior to that, depended on the whim and diligence of those responsible at the time. And there was no system in place to capture the information so it was a haphazard process to say the least. Land transactions were another story however. It was more important, apparently, that things dealing with ownership and wealth were accurately detailed and recorded than things like births or deaths -- an understandable if not somewhat inconvenient fact for genealogists. We found detailed records of the original land transactions by my ancestors way back to 1870. And we found a number of historical plat maps that showed ownership as early as 1875. Here, through the magic of digital photography, is an exam

Tour Around the Lake

During our travels around America we occasionally find areas that just feel right, comfortable. Lake Red Rock is one of those places. Because of it's location near Wisconsin it may well become a regular stop during our annual travels to the upper Midwest. I've written before about Corps of Engineers campgrounds. If you like "camping" and can live without full hookups, they are often among the best choices. But, as you'd expect, some are better than others. Some are older and designed for tent campers or small camping trailers -- with smaller sites that can often be very un-level. Others handle larger campers and motorhomes just fine. The Lake Red Rock COE campgrounds are among the best we've experienced, clearly designed for big rigs, and maintained very well. Yesterday, Wednesday, we took a circle drive around the lake, stopping and checking out all the other COE campgrounds (yes, there are more than one), a county park with RV camping sites, and the E

Grave Tuesday

One of the reasons we're camped in this part of the world is so Dar can do more family tree research. In the middle 1800's ancestors on my Dad's side settled in this corner of Iowa after having immigrated from Germany and spending some time in Bucks County Pennsylvania. They left behind a lot of descendants, gravestones, and colorful stories over the years. We stopped here in the Fall of  2008 to meet with Kevin, a 2nd cousin of mine, who grew up in the area. He spent a day driving us around, meeting people, seeing homes and churches and cemeteries, and showing us where all the bodies are buried. His own extensive family research made him the perfect guide on our tour of Marion County. But this year, with renewed vigor, more questions than answers, and new family tree software on her PC, Dar needed to gather more information to fill in some of the gaps. So on Tuesday, we spent the day haunting cemeteries all over the area and taking more photos of headstones than I tho

Camping versus Parking

During the past few weeks we've stayed at RV parks and we've stayed at campgrounds. Comparisons are easy when both types are sampled repetitively in sequence. And this recent experience has confirmed our strong preference for "camping" over "parking". For us there's just no comparison. Camping wins hands-down. It just feels right. But this isn't a one-size or one-type fits all lifestyle. There are times when camping isn't the best or preferred choice.  We're completely self-sufficient and self-contained (no hookups) for up to two weeks. It just makes sense to use that ability when you need to, or want to, depending on the circumstances. We may love camping in the true sense of the word, but we try not to be constrained by that preference when common-sense suggests alternatives. Here are a few examples: We've parked overnight at Walmart or Lowes or other places when all we needed (and wanted) was a few hour rest during a long multi-d

Red Rock Lake in Iowa

This is going to be short... no long update tonight! We got things running by 9:30am this morning and had a very agreeable drive into Iowa. We landed at another Corps of Engineers Park... this one on Red Rock Lake, just southeast of Des Moines and very near the community of Pella. We're planning to be here for a week while Dar does some family tree research and I veg-i-tate with a book and other projects recently spinning around in my head. More tomorrow... Thom

Iowa, Here We Come

By the time you read this on Sunday morning we should be warming up the bus-house and making final preparations to head out from Nebraska City and into Iowa. The direction today is East. The government weather kids are forecasting sunny skies and mild winds, so that's a good thing. And the route we think we're taking is mostly lazy 2 lane State highways. If all goes well, we should end up somewhere near Red Rock Lake, just southeast of Des Moines, by mid-afternoon. If we don't end up upended or upset by an uprising of upper classmen, I'll try to upload a journal update from my upgraded and up-to-date computer if I can find an uplink, perhaps at an upscale coffee shop along the upper Des Moines River in uplifting and upbeat Iowa, where uproarious and uptight upholsters, uprooted from upstate New York caused some upheaval and an uprising when they failed in their bid for upward mobility during the 20's. The upshot is that we'll be up early, but not before sun-

A Lewis & Clark Refresher

Readers may have noticed that I've been playing around with a new header format for this blog. Using Picasa, the most user-friendly program for handling digital images I've ever used, I'm creating custom-sized collages of varying numbers of recent images and, again with Picasa, adding some jazzed-up title text. The finished product is a single image which can then be easily inserted into the header position of the blog. So far, I'm liking the look but will probably keep playing around with it to see where this goes. It was 36f degrees when I woke this morning but there'll be no complaining from this writer. Except for a little problem with allergies, I've been enjoying the Spring during our trek northward this year. We've been able to avoid any run-ins with the usual springtime thunderstorms (or have they been avoiding us??), nature is blooming all around us, and the calendar's promise of warmer temps makes cool mornings like today's easy to take.

Lovin' Lincoln

After an efficient morning... no lingering or lazy wafting around the internet world... we headed west for our day in Lincoln. The drive was quick as NE-2 is a great four lane slab of concrete the entire distance of 45 miles. As the miles were ticking by I glanced off to the south side of the road and saw a small body of water... a creek or perhaps a pond... and there, sticking out of the water, was the Loch Ness Monster. Don't ask me to explain more, I can't. Apparently someone's idea of entertainment out here on the great plains. And no picture... it happened too quick to get a snapshot. It's been many years since I've been to Lincoln. It was on the circuit of towns I'd occasionally hit during an early chapter of my business days. But I really don't remember much from those visits. The metro area has a population of about 300,000, a nice size, and generally appears neat and cared for. One thing we did notice while driving around town was the large number

A Slow Wednesday

Things were pretty slow around the bus-house today. The weather has been mostly cloudy and we've had a few drops of rain. It was a good day to stay inside and get some work done. Now, by "work" I mean being productive in some loose way. So to me, work includes writing and making changes to our website and the online journal, email correspondence, reading, planning, paying bills, backing up computers, tracking expenses... you get the idea. However there's no amount of justification that can turn "watching television" into work... at least in my book. And the TV wasn't on at all so far today... that may change tonight however. Dar has her head buried in the computer again, working on family tree and genealogy research. When she really gets going she doesn't stop for lunch or much else for that matter. It's almost an obsession... but I stop short of using that term. If I did she'd have some comments about my time on the PC too -- mean, retal

Toto, I've a feeling we're not in Kansas anymore.

It didn't take a whole lot of effort or diesel fuel to drive north today. We were literally blown out of Kansas by near-gale force winds, much the same, sans the twister, as the duo of Dorothy and Toto many years ago. But this time, the wind was directly at our back, a rare but greatly appreciated tailwind. Side winds are the worst for the bus-house -- those big flat sides catching the full brunt of the wind and forcing you out of your narrow lane and off the road.. A direct head wind doesn't usually blow you around too bad, but the noise from the high winds added to the speed the bus-house is already traveling can be deafening. If we're traveling down the road at 60 mph and we have a 30 mph head wind, the speed of the air over the nose and sides will be 90 mph. But when that same 30 mph wind is a tailwind, like today, and you're traveling along at 60 mph, the speed of the air over the cabin is only 30 mph -- making for much less noise. Traveling with the wind today

Topeka or Google?

Monday was another Capitol exploration day. The weather was perfect for the drive to Topeka, a mere 40 miles away. But as we progressed northward I wondered if we were going to Topeka??... or if we were going to Google?? Early in March the Mayor of Topeka officially changed the name of the town to Google. [ Link to Official City Proclamation ]  That's right, for the month of March, Topeka was, in fact, Google , Kansas. Then, on April 1st, Google changed it's name to Topeka. [ Link to Google Blog ]  All day that day, we didn't "google" topics for research, we "topeka'd" them. It's all very confusing to an old guy like me who still remembers what an IBM Selectric is and has never heard of a town changing it's name for just a month! Turns out both name changes were attempts at humor (April Fools!) and self-promotion. But on our way into the Capital City, I wasn't real sure what we'd find. Regardless of which name was correct, we


First off, Happy Birthday to our wonderful daughter Andrea, who is also, along with Gage our Son-in-Law, co-producer of the two coolest, neatest, smartest, and best looking Grandsons anyone could hope for. We hope you have a great day and can find some time for yourself between keeping an eye on those two little boys and your work and your house and ?? We love you and wish you all the best today, and every day... but especially today... but every day too... oh, you know what we mean. -------- When we're "camping" (as opposed to RV parking) we both enjoy an evening campfire. While many others are huddled in their campers, the tell-tale blue-gray glow of the TV sneaking out around tightly drawn shades, we prefer watching and poking at, feeding new fuel to, and being mesmerized by this little chemical reaction we've learned to love. It soothes the soul, melts away worries, and somehow brings one into contact with that power greater than all others. And what's re

Burning Kansas

A few lines in yesterday's post referred to the 17th Governor of Kansas, one Edward W. Hoch. Subsequently, Dar dug up a little more information on the man from the Boston Evening Transcript. In the 1903 article, Hoch is referred to as: " ... a tall, angular, slow-moving man. His face is so homely the farmers' wives of Kansas agree it would sour fresh milk. " Well, considering these new facts he might very well be a closer relative than I thought. Yesterday, we explored a wider area near Melvern Lake, including the towns of Melvern, Williamsburg, Pomona, and Lyndon... a loop drive that included another COE dam project named Pomona Lake. These little towns all have one thing in common -- they're dying. Their small business areas are mostly vacant and falling-down. There might be a school, but what's going to keep any of these kids here when they're old enough to make that choice? One Kansas historian, Daniel Fitzgerald, estimates there are hundreds of ghos

The Pollen Trail

One of the downsides, for people like me, of traveling northbound through the mid-section of the country during the Spring is pollen. Everything is in bloom... trees, bushes, grasses, wildflowers, weeds... and it all looks so beautiful through my itchy, watery eyes. I take in as much of the splendid colors as I can between sneezes. By moving north, we're at the bloomin' edge of Spring during the entire trip so there's really no chance to escape it all. But that's OK... I deal with it... it is a nice time of the year otherwise. Yesterday Dar and I explored the area around Melvern Lake. The Lake was created by a Corps of Engineers dam finished in 1972. It's primary purpose is to provide flood control on the lower Marais des Cygnes River. It's a small lake by COE standards, maybe 10 miles long by a couple miles wide. But there were no less than 6 different campgrounds developed when the dam was built, the largest of which was given over to the State of Kansas to

R&R on Melvern Lake

Yesterday, Thursday, was another moving day. Our time at Oologah Lake had come to an end. (As an aside, Will Rogers used to tell everyone he was from Claremore because no one could spell Oologah). I thought getting out of our campsite would be tricky, what with one-way roads, a tight turn, and a few ominous low-hanging tree limbs. I was right. Despite both of our best efforts to keep an eye on everything, the stub of a previously trimmed limb, about an inch in diameter, ended up hard against the side of the bus-house. I had to stop moving, climb up, and cut it off before moving further to avoid even more damage. We're now the owners of a new tree-limb scrape that I'll have to try to polish away -- or at least minimize. But you know, if you're going to really use these big campers,...if you're going to push the envelope and get them back into those more rustic campsites that we like... you're going to end up with a few brush scrapes. While not happy when it happens

Kansas, the 34th State

Kansas was the 34th State admitted to the Union. That happened in 1861. But Kansas is also the 34th State officially explored by our Intrepid Explorers. That happened today. How's that for a coincidence? T

Will Rogers

It's one of those things I really like about our life right now... discovering something like the birthplace of Will Rogers just down the road a piece from our camp near Oologah. And then finding the Will Rogers Memorial Museum a little further down the road, in the opposite direction. And then taking the time to learn more about this one-of-a-kind cowboy, what made him tick, and how he fits into the historical fabric of the USA. It's an eye-popper! I had heard of Will Rogers... thought I knew a little about him too. I'd seen photos, heard audio clips, and generally knew he was a humorist and respected commentator back in the 20's or 30's. But I couldn't have told you he was from Oklahoma if I had a gun to my head. And I certainly didn't know anything close to the full story of his life. Some of these deficiencies I took care of today. I could hammer away on the keys and try to adequately recreate a little of what we learned today, but I won't. This

Back in the Woods

Our motorhome, dubbed the bus-house by our Grandson Ryan, has two bedroom slide-outs. The queen size bed sits cross-ways and along with the head board moves with the slide. When the slide is open, there are two small windows, one on each side, that are positioned right next to our heads when laying in bed. Laying on my left side I can see outside... the stars, moon, shadows, and any activity on that side of the camper. What's more, those windows open to let a little of the outside in. We're getting back to that time of the year when we can sleep with those bedroom windows open all night. It's a small thing, but those little windows make me feel like I'm camping. For me, a breeze of fresh air makes for great sleeps. Other senses get involved too -- the scents of pine or lake, or even a hint of campfire add to the effect; the sounds of waves lapping on the shore or a stream flowing over rocks or the wind blowing through tree-tops or leaves rustling on the ground. Even i


This is gonna be quick. It's late, we just got back from dinner with some good friends, and my slow internet connection is not just slow... it's painfully slow. This morning, Monday, we got the bus-house fired up and we were on the road just a few minutes after 9am. The route took us eastward, OK-33 to I-40 for a few miles, then the Creek Turnpike around the south end of Tulsa to US-169 which we took to Oologah Oklahoma on the north end of the Tulsa Metroplex. There, we found suitable accommodations at the Hawthorn Bluff Corps of Engineers Campground on Oologah Lake. It's a great campsite with a view off the lake from the bus-house windshield, and it's somewhat hidden behind a hill that cuts the wind. We think we'll be here for 3 nights. till tomorrow... Thom

Guthrie, OK

We gave things a chance to settle down a bit after the thunderstorms of yesterday morning before driving into Guthrie and exploring around town a bit. Guthrie is significant because of its unique and outstanding collection of late-19th and early-20th century commercial architecture. (Click on any photo to enlarge) It all started with the land run of 1889, a method used by the government to distribute land that had previously belonged to American Indians. From wikipedia… At noon on April 22, 1889, cannons resounded at a 2-million acre (8,000 km²) section of Indian Territory , launching president Benjamin Harrison 's "Hoss Race" or Land Run of 1889 . During the next six hours, about 10,000 people settled in what became the capital of the new Territory of Oklahoma : Guthrie. Within months, Guthrie became a modern brick and stone "Queen of the Prairie" with municipal water , electricity, a mass transit system, and underground parking garages for horses and ca

Morning Thunderstorms

The NOAA weather radio alarm went of this morning about 5am, waking me from a deep sleep. That thing could wake the dead. There's NO ignoring it. Lightning was visible to the southwest, so I hopped on the computer to see what the radar looked like. There was a thin line of strong thunderstorms coming our way... no possibility of avoiding it. The predictions of strong damaging winds (70mph), hail (quarter size), and heavy rains prompted the safety director to order all slides brought in and to rig for rough weather. "Aye Aye, Sir!" With preparations made, we made coffee and waited for the show to start. We did have some small hail, but the wind and rain were not as heavy as the worst predictions. It was all over quickly and the forecast now is for a string of several nice days. The strong winds of the past few days are supposed to lighten up too. With all that behind us, and since I was already up, I threw a couple eggs on the griddle and enjoyed the morning. Dar nod

Oklahoma City National Memorial & Museum

15 years ago this month I was on a business trip to Oklahoma -- Tulsa to be precise. On April 19th, I had finished with my business, made my way to the airport about Noon, and that's when I learned about the bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City earlier that day. People throughout the airport were huddled around TVs and the place was quieter than usual. I'm not sure anyone understood the true level of destruction and loss of life... I know I didn't. Many of us were still making business phone calls while keeping one eye on the story. News video from the scene showed a building still standing, albeit with a third of it collapsed. I had a similar feeling early on in the 9/11 attack on the World Trade Center... an airplane had hit the building... I didn't know how big or type of plane... wasn't clear if it was accidental or intentional... and just assumed that the fires would be extinguished and the building repaired and life would go on.

Quirky Camper Videos

I don't often do this... put videos relating to RVs in the Journal. But these two caught my eye today and I thought I'd share them. The first is an idea from he 1970's. The car involved is a classic VW Beetle. I owned one almost exactly like the one in the video. If I'd have kept it we could have saved a huge amount of money. Check it out... The next one is just humorous, I can't explain anything about it... the circumstances, when, where, why, etc. But it made me laugh. The Little Car that Couldn't...

An OK Capitol

Yesterday, Wednesday, we drove into Oklahoma City to visit the State Capitol and the Oklahoma City National Memorial and Museum. This journal entry will be on the State Capitol portion of the day. In 1907 Oklahoma was the 46th State to be admitted to the Union. Only New Mexico (1912), Arizona (1912), Alaska (1959), and Hawaii (1959) were later. It seems the Oklahoma Territory was being used as a dumping ground for American Indians as they were "removed" from their native areas around the USA, and there was little interest in Statehood for a primarily Indian Territory. Eventually though, enough white settlers moved in, outnumbered the Indians, and progress toward Statehood began in earnest during the 1890's and 1900's. Originally, the Capitol was in Guthrie, now a suburb of Oklahoma City and where we're currently camped. That building still exists and will be the topic of another exploration in the next few days. But in the middle of one night in 1910 the State