May 29, 2012

May 29 - This, That, and a Real Buzz-Cut

I have no idea what I'm going to write about today. As I sit here, laptop atop my lap, punching at keys without deep thought or any idea of the structure of a well-thought-out journal entry, we'll all just have to wait and see what develops.

It's been 11 days since my last entry. After a string of daily entries for the previous 6 weeks as we made our way from Texas to Washington, my writing muscles are taking a break. I can't deny that there's been a real shortage of available time for writing as most of our available hours are focused on family... especially grand kids. While in town we like to relieve the regular local cast of caregivers... which means picking kids up from school, getting them to activities and appointments, running errands, and helping with household chores. It's a change of pace for us and a nice break for Mom, Dad, and others at the same time.


Speaking of change:  just a few moments ago Dar said "com'on... let's get this haircut done while the little one is napping". For the record, I've been having Dar cut my hair since I transitioned to a very short "buzz-cut" a few years ago. It's a style that's easy to do, easy to take care of, and really fits in with our nomadic life. It just looks like hell... something I can deal with at my advanced age, what with not caring what other people think, and all. I've been trying to get 10 minutes of Dar's time to give me the buzz for the past two weeks. It had grown out enough that hat-hair and bed-hair were becoming obvious. My mop was now over two months old... felt like a dang hippie.

We've found, over the years, that the #1 or #2 attachment for the clippers is about right... leaving enough fuzz up there to let others know I can grow hair, but short enough to last 4 to 6 weeks before having to clip it again.

Well, Bunkie, today we've broken into new territory... crossed a barrier never crossed before... boldly gone where, at least, this guy has never gone before.

After the first couple of long passes down the middle of my head with the clippers, from forehead to nape of neck, she suddenly stops and says "Oh No! I forgot the attachment!"


"No attachment... I was wondering why it looked so short." Then she started laughing. It's so short the only way to know it's not a shaved pate' is to feel it. A little like 200 grit sandpaper.

I didn't find it especially funny.

I guess this would be the time to start running the Norelco over it every morning... and fire the barber.


Last weekend, the 19th and 20th, we drove up to Kirkland, Washington, a Seattle suburb, to see our Son and Daughter-in-Law... JT and Kaytlyn. Besides wanting to spend some time with these two, we wanted to see the new home they bought a few months ago.

Due to a scheduled chicken-butchering operation late Friday afternoon (another story), we couldn't even start the 3+ hour drive until after 7pm, which didn't seem like the worst idea as it might give the legendary Seattle traffic a chance to thin out a bit. But if the traffic we ran into when we got to the metro area about 9pm was "thinned out", I'd have to take a full dose of tranquilizers to survive the "full monty".  To add to the packed roads, it was dark, it was raining, and fatigue was starting to set in. I think we'll figure out another plan for our next visit. At the very least, chickens shouldn't delay us next time.

JT & K's home is very nice... and in a great neighborhood. Kirkland is a NE suburb with a vibrant feel and close to both urban attractions and outdoor recreational opportunities. We helped them with installing a raised garden, fixing a couple leaky faucets, and made many more plans for future visits. Having a house is not unlike having an RV... there's always something to do... something to fix... something to change.


We've been stepping up our discussions regarding our future... and some ideas are starting to gel. As readers of this journal will remember, we're thinking about where we're at after 5 years of fulltime life... what we like about it and what we don't, and where we'd like to go... how we'd like to change some things up for a more rewarding experience. I'll have more to say in a future post, but here's a link to a few past posts with some of our formative thoughts.

May 18, 2012

May 18 - Update

Our first week in Portland/Vancouver has been busy, but it's also been enjoyable. The routine around our daughter and son-in-laws home is always busy, always something going on, always something to do, and always someplace to pick-up or deliver kids. Every time I'm here I understand, better than ever before, why child-rearing is a young person's game.

And it's Friday already. Today, after a relaxed morning we're driving up to the Seattle area to visit our son and daughter-in-law for the weekend. We haven't seen them since last Fall... and haven't seen the house they bought in December. Really looking forward to the visit. We're leaving the bus-house in Vancouver and just driving up in the toad.

May 13, 2012

May 13 - The End of the Trail

  • Move from La Grande, OR. to Vancouver, WA.
  • Route:  I-84 all the way
  • Fueled (diesel) at 4.149
  • Miles Today:  272
  • Total Spring12 bus-house miles :  2,548
  • Total Spring12 toad miles :  1,002
  • Tonight's camp: Van Mall RV Park   elevation  180'
  • Weather: morning low 37f, high 88f. too dang hot... but nice
  • Notables: 1.Never tire of the fantastic drive along the Columbia River Gorge
  • Link to photo album for today.

With a long-ish drive in store, we were on the road before 9am.

What a marvelous drive through the Blue Mountains of Eastern Oregon, followed a little later by the "E-ticket" rated drive along the Columbia River and it's Gorge cut through the Cascade Mountains. I never tire of the Gorge... I think of the native people who lived here for thousands of years... the Lewis & Clark Corps of Discovery coming through in the fall of 1805... settlers along the Oregon Trail enduring so much hardship as they sought a better future... all of it watched over by the bright white snow-capped Mount Hood.  It's mind-candy for explorers of any age.

The move today was good. Sunny skies and a tailwind helped push the bus-house to over 8mpg. We arrived at the RV Park (we've been here before), got set up, and headed over to see the grand kids, Andi and Gage, and re-connect.

As much as we love traveling and exploring, we also love time with family. What's that old saying... We love leaving, but we also love coming home.

May 12, 2012

May 12 - Bronze and Hot Water

  • Explored Hot Lakes Springs
  • Toad Miles Today:  2
  • Total Toad Miles Spring12:  1,284
  • Tonight's camp: Eagles Hot Lake RV Park near La Grande, OR. elevation: 2,700 ft.
  • Weather: morning low 37f.  afternoon high 70f; Warm sunny day
  • Notables: 1.) Found far more than I expected at Hot Lake Springs. 2.) Met sculptor David Manuel and learned about the process of creating cast bronze art. 3.) Amazed at the extensive collection of historic artifacts in the History Center.
  • Link to photo album for today

Eagles Hot Lake RV Park got it's name from a large historic facility just up the road called Hot Lake Springs. There, a natural spring spews some 30 gallons of 208f degree hot mineral-laden water out of mother Earth every second... making it one of the largest/hottest hot springs known.

In 1812, early explorers traveling through the valley on their way to the mouth of the Columbia River (present-day Astoria), found and recorded the existence of the springs. Shortly after, a crude early trading post was set up at the site making Hot Lakes one of the oldest established towns in Oregon. Later, as westward migration really caught hold in the 1840s and 1850s, the Oregon Trail came right through Hot Lake Springs (and right through what's now our RV Park). After months on the hot dusty trail, and now being so close to their destination, the chance to rest and soak in hot water for a while must have been a welcomed break. Some called this area "the promised land".

Later, the railroad came through, literally within a few hundred feet of Hot Lake Springs, connecting Portland to the transcontinental railroad system and, thus, to the rest of the country... and many more people came for the curative and healing power of the water. A hotel, restaurant, and a medical facility/hospital grew to accommodate the demand. During the 1920s and 1930s, belief in the beneficial health effects of hot mineral baths reached it's zenith... and this was also the peak of Hot Lakes popularity. We found the same time-line at Hot Springs Arkansas when we visited in April of last year.

After a devastating fire in 1934 that destroyed a portion of the complex, things started down-hill. A series of owners... declining customers... WWII...  changing medical opinion about the benefits of hot mineral baths... all combined to keep it's previous grandeur just out of reach.

In 2003 a new owner, an entire family, purchased the property. Famous Sculptor David Manuel, his wife, and a collection of other sons and daughters were the new owners, and they set out on, what turned out to be, a 9 year project to restore the place and make it a going concern once again. Recently, they opened for business and are working hard to continue renovations and return Hot Lake Springs to the map and into the consciousness of those looking for an experience you can't get just anywhere.

During our tour today, we listened to an extensive presentation by Lee Manuel, David's wife and the real driving force behind the restoration project. We visited the 2-level History Center which showcases David's extensive collection of Indian, American Pioneer, and US wartime artifacts, the Bed and Breakfast floor with it's uniquely decorated rooms, the foundry building where David's sculptures are converted from clay to cast bronze, and finally a meeting with David in his studio where he was working on this year's piece. We also had lunch in the restaurant and wandered around the grounds looking for signs of the old Oregon Trail and checking out the hot baths, pools, and tubs. About the only thing we didn't do was get into any hot water ourselves. You gotta leave something for the next visit.

Our visit to Hot Lake Springs turned out to be far more interesting and rewarding than I had hoped for. And Dar... well, she was just glowing. She loves stories of history and renewal... bringing the old back to life again... regaining that sense of what it used to be. She just loves it.

May 11, 2012

May 11 - Three Surprised Badgers

  • Explored the Elkhorn Mountains from North Powder to Anthony Lake
  • Toad Miles Today:  106
  • Total Toad Miles Spring12:  1,282
  • Tonight's camp: Eagles Hot Lake RV Park   elevation:  2,700
  • Weather: morning low 34f,  afternoon high 63f, lots of sun
  • Notables: 1.) Saw our first American Badger in the wild.  2.) Another great day of linear exploring in scenic country.
  • Link to photo album for today.

Today we explored most of the rest of the Elkhorn Mountain Scenic Byway... the portion we couldn't complete the other day as the road wasn't yet plowed out from all the winter snow. So today we thought we'd attack the problem from the other end.

Starting in the town of North Powder, we headed west and into the Elkhorns, in the opposite direction we were going the other day. On the way up we stopped a few times to soak in the scenes, smell the cool pine air, and snap a few photos. At the top, not far from the summit, we found the Anthony Lake Ski Area, pretty much abandoned at this point in the season with the exception of a 3 or 4 snowmobilers. Yes, there was still plenty of snow at that elevation (7,100) for a few more weeks of that frosty sport.

Beyond the Ski Area we did, as expected, find the road closed and still covered with patchy drifts of thick snow. As we're unsure of our towing insurance coverage on officially closed roads, we decided to not take the chance and head back.

On the way down we stopped at one other small historic town along the byway, Haines, OR. We explored the small city park where they've preserved a handful of historic log cabins and buildings from the 1800's. With a population of only a couple hundred people, it's clear the town is struggling. But you gotta love any town with the slogan "Biggest Little City in Oregon... with whiskey in the water and gold in the streets." It's going on my short-list of places I may want to live.

click to enlarge

Finally, the most notable thing about our day was the first ever (for both of us) sighting of an American Badger in the wild. We were heading back down from the ski area, twisting and curving as the road wound it's way along streams and around hills. All day we had experienced fallen rock in the road from eroding steep sided cuts... and were both watching carefully for boulders in the roadway. As we rounded one curve and faced a long cut, we both saw what, at first, appeared to be a large rock in the road. As we got closer it became evident the "rock" was moving... and the second thought was that it was a blowing piece of debris... like a plastic grocery bag.  Then, as we got to within a few dozen feet it became clear it was an animal... an animal that was low, squat, with a distinctly striped face... one that stopped for an instant, looked directly at us... and we knew exactly what it was... a badger. There was no doubt.

Surprised, it bolted for the side of the road and stopped, just as we closed to within 20 feet. We stopped too. For a brief moment it was a face-to-face stand-off of three badgers... two from Wisconsin and one from Oregon. It then clamored up the side of the cut, into the brush and into it's future. In our future, we'll always have the memory of that unusual meeting.

Since badgers are mostly nocturnal it was a real surprise to see it. And, of course, we were too busy looking and checking it out to get a photo. It's amazing how many thumbs you grow when having to quickly perform with a camera.

On Wisconsin! ...

May 10, 2012

May 10 - La Grande, Oregon

Spent the day today around La Grande... the small town of 13,000 folks near which we've camped most of this past week.  It's a friendly little place with a lot going for it:  a college town (Eastern Oregon University), great views of mountains in every direction, clean, neat, sense of community pride, very good hospital, and tons of recreational opportunities within an hour or two in every direction.

A guy and gal could get to like a place like this.

May 9, 2012

May 9 - Daily Posts to the Journal

Since April 2nd, the day we left Rockport and began this current travel leg of our RV Sabbatical, I've been posting an update to the online journal (our blog) every day. It's the first extended period of daily posting I've done in the 5 years the RV Sabbatical Journal has existed.

In the past I've said, and written, that I don't want to be forced into a daily schedule... which implies a deadline... and a routine... which are exactly the kind of things we're trying to get away from by simplifying our life.

But, for the sake of the experience, I wanted to give daily posting a try. I wanted to learn how I'd handle it, how I'd feel, how it affected my life.

So how did it go?  Not so fast... first, a little background: The main intended audience for this journal is (in this order) 1) us, Dar and me, as a record of our travels and experiences during this chapter of our life, 2) family and friends who may want see where we are and what we're up to, and 3) curious others who might get something from reading it (but it's a mystery to me what that might be).

I don't want to generalize, but I believe many people would be better off by living their own life than by reading about us living ours. It might be better to read a book instead of trying to get something out of the mumblings of this stumblebum writer. Go for a walk... or just a drive... see something new... find a piece of history in your neighborhood or town and dig into it a little further... learn to play the 5-string banjo (ouch, now that's getting personal!)... visit a museum... ponder the mysteries of the universe. Do neat things that will improve your mind, your body, and the depth of your life.

Back to the topic at hand... daily posting.  Here's what I think after doing it for a month and a half. For me, daily posts are taking too much of my time, my meager mental energy, and giving me an easy excuse for sitting inside, feet up with the PC on my lap. It's taking time away from being outside or reading or learning or pondering the big issues of my day. I want more of my own time (out of the little I have left) to live for today.

So I'm going back to my old haphazard schedule of posting... best summed up by the banner on our "About" page...

"New posts to The RV Sabbatical Journal are
published punctually, precisely on-time,
whenever I get around to it... unless something comes up.

 Starting next week, we'll be in "sitting mode" for about a month, and the updates would naturally drop off anyway. But my experiment with daily posting is over at the end of this week, and I'm going to try my best to put that extra time toward doing something neat.

May 8, 2012

May 8 - Elkhorn Mountains Scenic Byway

  • Explored the Elkhorn Mtns. area west of Baker City, OR
  • Toad Miles Today:  174
  • Total Toad Miles Spring12:  1,176
  • Tonight's camp:  Eagles Hot Lake RV Park   elevation:  2,700
  • Weather: morning low  37f;  afternoon high  78f;  mostly sunny
  • Notables: 1. Learned how to mine for gold with a dredge.  2. Really enjoyed exploring a forest road closed due to heavy snow... unsure of what we'd run into and how far we'd get.  3. Got a taste of the linear exploring style... until we had to turn around and make the long drive back home.
  • Link to photo album for today

This morning we loaded the car with the usual exploring supplies... compass, gps, snacks, water, extra clothing layers, a bottle of wine (it's important to be prepared for anything)... and headed into the Elkhorn Mountains to the west of Baker City. Actually part of the much larger Blue Mountain Range, the Elkhorns are sometimes referred to as the "Little Alps". When they're snow-capped, like they were today, there really is a resemblance to the bigger Alps, over there, across the pond.

I really dig days like today. We had no destination... nowhere we had to be... no time constraints. Every mile was new and every mile had something we could take. (At the very least, I'm sure Dar took a photo or two every mile)  The rough plan was to complete the Elkhorn Mountain Scenic Byway loop. But there was one problem with that idea... there is a 17 mile segment of the loop that's still officially closed due to heavy snow near the 7,300 foot summit. I checked with the Forest Service... "yup, still closed... why, there's still 4 feet of snow on the ground at 7,000 feet.".

But little things like road closures and 4 feet of snow don't stop intrepid explorers... and we both had hopes that recent higher than normal temps may have, just maybe, made the road passable. And off we went.

On days like today we like to take advantage of almost any opportunity to get out of the car and put boots on the ground. Even short walks down a trail along the Powder River... no one else around, the sounds of a briskly flowing stream, the scent of pine in the cool air, scenes begging to be captured on film (now I'm showing my age!)... it forces your senses to awaken and the experience is imprinted on your mind with more quality than is possible with any camera's photo sensor.

We found a dam... quite a large dam... which plugged up the Powder River and formed Phillips Lake.  Time for a break, we stopped and soaked in the view while having a snack.

Further up-river, near the old historic mining town of Sumpter, the river flows through a wide flat valley, where gold was discovered in the 1860s. For eons, flecks of gold eroded from the surrounding hills and washed down with tons of other rock and minerals into the flat valley floor. With the gold so widely dispersed, it was thought the only way to make money retrieving it was to do it on a massive scale. Enter the mining dredge. These industrial-sized devices floated, like a barge, in a large pond of water. The pond was created by the barge as it's huge bucket-chain gnawed away the gold-laden valley floor at the rate of 60 acres per year.  [link to more dredge information]  As the dredge chewed up and ate away at the forward edge of the pond, they were pulled forward a few feet for a fresh bite while filling in the pond behind them. It was a continuous process of pond creation and destruction... with the dredge floating the entire time.

The dredges processed all the material scooped up through a series of screens and sieves that left the heaviest material, gold and black sand, behind for further processing.

If you didn't know about the dredging operations in this area you'd wonder what the heck chewed up the valley and stream-bed. Elongated piles of  rocky debris that the dredges left behind run for miles throughout the valley. It's a man-made mark on nature I'd not seen before.

Aerial view from Google showing results of gold mining by dredge. (click to enlarge)

The last remaining of the 3 dredges that worked in the Sumpter area is now preserved at a small State Park. We stopped, walked around and through the historic hulk, and marveled at the ingenuity and motivation for creating it.

Now, that's a gold mining dredge.  (click to enlarge)

From Sumpter we weaved our way up to Granite and then north on Forest Road 73 to the North Fork of the John Day River. At that point, there's a Forest Service Campground and a junction where FR-73 bends to the east and FR-51/52 goes north and northwest. As we suspected, FR-73 was closed at that point. But carefully perusing the map showed another possibility... taking FR-51 to the north where it meets another State Road which runs to a point very close to our camp in La Grande.

We talked with the camp hosts in the campground for the "local" information... and they confirmed that FR-73 was indeed impassible. But they also informed us that FR-51 was itself closed and was probably impassible too. Hmmm. But we won't know for sure until we try it. In my mind, backtracking all the way we'd come to this point was a poor third choice.

So up FR-51 we went... Dar, me, and our low clearance 2WD Ford Focus... past the "Road Closed" sign. For the first few miles there was no problem at all... just tree debris in the road, uncleared rock fall from steep cuts, and an occasional fallen tree leaning onto the roadway. Surprisingly, not having seen another vehicle since Sumpter, a old beat-up small pickup truck catches up to us and passes... giving us hope the road would be passable. But as we encountered more and more snow on the road, and then saw the little pickup coming back again, hopes faded. A quick chat with the crew of the pickup confirmed the only way we're going back to La Grande tonight was by our third option... backtracking the entire way to Baker City.

A sense of adventure and discovery marked the day today... really spiced things up. If we had been linear exploring in our future small rig, we could have tucked into the Forest Service campground at the junction and headed in a different direction tomorrow.  Let me just say we had a long healthy discussion about that on our way back.

May 8 - Procrastination Edition

We had a very good day today, up in the mountains west of Baker City, OR... the area behind the Elkhorn Mountains or, as they're also called, the "Little Alps".  We found a narrow gauge railroad, a large lake behind a big dam, an old gold mining dredge,  marvelous views of snow-capped peaks, and two roads still closed for the season due to heavy snow.

I'm supposed to write about all this and more. But I'm just not a writer that can force things in the evening... especially when I'm tired.

So today's post will be along about mid-morning tomorrow, after I've been refreshed.


May 7, 2012

May 7 - A Needed Day at Home

We've been moving a lot and exploring a lot the past week or two. So this was a day of compensation. That is, we did very little beyond the borders of our camp. Sleeping in was just the start...

This is all the update you'll be getting tonight.

May 6, 2012

May 6 - Into the Eastern Oregon Mountains

  • Move from Boise, ID. to La Grande, OR.
  • Route:  I-84 all the way
  • Fueled (diesel) at 4.169
  • Miles Today: 174
  • Total Spring12 bus-house miles :  2,276
  • Total Spring12 toad miles :  1,002
  • Tonight's camp: Eagles Hot Lake RV Park    elevation 2,700
  • Weather: morning low 33f, high 60f, mostly sunny.
  • Notables: 1. Fun drive on I-84 as it winds through valleys and around hills and snow-topped mountains in Eastern Oregon.
  • Link to photo album for today.

I didn't remind Dar... but I was aware that we'd be crossing into the Pacific Time Zone today, and "gaining" an hour in the process. That way, she prepared herself and the bus-house for travel with a dash of her usual urgency... and I could be a little more relaxed than normal. As it was, we were off at 10:30am MDT (9:30am PDT) with a plan of about 175 miles today, which, even with stopping for lunch in a rest area along the highway, would get us into the La Grande area before 2pm PDT.

We stopped for fuel at a Pilot/Flying J before leaving Idaho and had breakfast at their on-site Dennys. Fuel is always expensive in Oregon and Washington, so I wanted to top off the belly tank before crossing the border.

Before long we crossed into Oregon and were climbing over ridges, winding through valleys, and were entertained by the snow-topped Elkhorn Mountains to the west and the Wallowa Mountains to the northeast. Although not as tall as the Cascades, further to the west, the mountains of Eastern Oregon are no less interesting and chock-full of places to explore... things to do. We're hoping to get up into some of those higher places in the next few days.

We have about a week before arriving in the Portland area.

May 5, 2012

May 5 - Idaho State Capitol

  • Moved from Mountain Home ID to Boise ID
  • Explored the Idaho State Capitol (yes, a move and an exploration all in one day)
  • Bus-house Miles Today:  44
  • Total Spring12 bus-house miles:  2,103
  • Toad Miles Today: 22
  • Total Toad Miles Spring12:  1,002
  • Tonight's camp:  Mountain View RV Park  elevation: 2,880
  • Weather: morning low 34f,  afternoon high 55f; windy and  mostly cloudy, but clearing later in the day.
  • Notables: 1. Exploring an impressive classically styled Statehouse  2. Doing a move and an exploration... both in one day.  3. Improving weather means more sun and warmth in the next few days.
  • Link to photo album for today

After yesterday's wind storm that resulted in us hunkering down at Mountain Home RV Park in the town of the same name, and after a good nights sleep, we were up and on the road at the startlingly early time of 10:30am this morning.  Dar came up with the great idea that if we could find a convenient RV park near the highway in Boise (which is only 45 miles away), we could do double duty today... that is, move and visit the Capitol of Idaho in the same day. So that's what we did.

With Boise less than an hour from Mountain Home, it didn't take long and we were there. We found a suitable parking site at Mountain View RV Park, near the Boise airport and just off I-84. After unhooking the toad and grabbing a quick lunch, we headed downtown.

Entering the downtown area it becomes evident that the Capitol... as large and stately as it is... is not the tallest building in Boise. No, since the 1970's, there are two Bank buildings (and soon to be a third) that dominate the "skyline" and diminish the Capitol both literally and figuratively. A sign of the times I guess... when the banking business is the dominant force in our lives.

Designed by architects John Tourtellotte and Charles Hummel, and built between 1905 and 1912 (the central part of the building, the rotunda, the dome, etc.), it's an impressive structure with 5 working floors and a massive dome that tops out at 208 feet. Built in stages, the wings for the Legislature (House and Senate) were added in 1920. That's the full structure one sees today. What's not seen are two large one-story underground additions built a few years ago that extend beyond the visible building and provide additional space for Legislative offices.

There are two things in particular that made this building stand apart from others we've seen and from what we expected: First, the building's interior is awash in natural light. The original architects designed-in large skylights, windows, and open spaces to brighten the interior. A large renovation project in the early 2000s removed false ceilings, walls, and other features that had been added over the years, and returned the old building to that envisioned by the original planners and architects. It's probably the brightest interior of all the 23 Capitols we've visited to this point.

The other thing that stands out is the lack of art and symbolism. The rotunda is a 4 story high marble lined, bright, impressive place. But what's not there is art... paintings and sculpture telling the story of the struggle and heritage of the people who made the State what it is. The reason for this omission isn't clear to me, but apparently the original planners made a conscious decision to let the building stand on it's own... to let it be it's own work of art... to tell it's own story.  Don't get me wrong, it's an wonderful building... one that the people of Idaho have a right to be proud of.  But in my humble opinion, having it help tell the story of the people could only add to the overall impact of the place.


With our job in Boise completed, we're planning to head out again tomorrow. The objective is the LaGrande area in Eastern Oregon, where we might spend the next few days.

click to zoom in.
Can you name this orater?

May 4, 2012

May 4 - Blown into a Mountain Home

  • Move from Brigham City, UT. to Mountain Home, ID.
  • Route: I-84 all the way
  • Miles Today: 244
  • Total Spring12 bus-house miles :  2,059
  • Total Spring12 toad miles :  980
  • Tonight's camp: Mountain Home RV Park, Mountain Home, ID.  elevation 3,140
  • Weather: morning low: 55f  afternoon high?: 66f before dropping to 48f as cold front passed; Ran into wall of dust, water, ice, and wind near Glenn's Ferry, ID. as cold front and storms went through. Possible freeze tonight with snow.
  • Notables: 1. The power of storms  2. The comfort of finding refuge from the storm
  • Link to photo album for today.

(disclaimer: this is not the actual angry cloud... just a cheap
imitation ripped from the web)
Travels today were going along smoothly and without any concern. Dar drove most of the way. We had a few light showers as we neared the Utah-Idaho border, but it all dissipated quickly and the drive was mostly dry. We left Brigham City about 10am with the objective of making it as far as we could by late afternoon. There were no plans or reservations anywhere. It was fun carefree day of spontaneity and good times.

Until we changed drivers near Glenn's Ferry. I had no more than taken the helm and started rolling down the I-84 super-slab when the next thing I saw was an angry black wall of dust, rain, wind, and evil starring us in the face. What's this?

The weather folks had said things would be cooler than normal and "iffy" in the precipitation department for the next couple days... but no one said anything about this angry wall of blackness.

As I drove into the "wall", wind hit us on our nose... gusts of ?? 40mph... maybe 50mph???  Gusting. The bus-house shook, was blown this way... and then that way. I slowed to 30mph, switched on the 4 way flashers, and wondered how strong a gust it would take to knock a 30,000 pound motorhome off the highway. It felt we were just a plaything for the elements.

An exit.  I'm taking it, pull over on the ramp with the intention of waiting it out. The rain increases... big drops... then loaded with pellets of ice... then hard ice... hail. It smashes, loudly, into the roof, nose, and side of the bus-house. But then, after a couple minutes... it starts to subside.

Unable to identify the location or direction of the core of the storm, and since it seemed to be diminishing, I started out again... only to be hit with a second wave. This time I pulled over into the lee of a big hillside, behind a semi truck, and waited for that wave to pass. After a short while, it eased.

Starting out again we found the rain had eased but the wind was as relentless as ever. With the possible exception of an experience we had in New Mexico a few years ago, this was the strongest wind we've driven it. Barely maintaining the Interstate minimum speed of 45mph, we came up on the community of Mountain Home, ID. and took the exit. We found an RV park... a really nice RV park just a short distance from the highway, pulled in, and asked for mercy in finding a parking site for the night.

They did and that's where we are. Parked nose into the wind, plugged in for the night, and riding out the expected freezing temps and possible snow tonight. This is May isn't it?

May 3, 2012

May 3 - Catch Up (and Mustard)

  • Tonight's camp: Golden Spike RV Park in Brigham City, UT. elevation 4,230:
  • No traveling or exploring today
  • Weather: morning low 54f;  high 64; mostly cloudy - no rain
  • Notables: Getting caught up... reducing your backlog of things to do... is a great feelling.
  • No photos today

Just a short recap of today's work. We completed journal entries and photos for most of our last few days of exploring.  Here's a list of what we did today. The links to the photo albums are included in each post.

April 30 - The Utah State Capitol

April 30 - Salt Lake City Temple Square

April 30 - Bingham Mine... the biggest man-made hole in the world.

May 2 - The Golden Spike National Historic Sight

Tomorrow, we head out on the road again... into Idaho. Hmmm... potatoes. We'll know where we end up tomorrow night when we get there.

p.s.  I have no idea what the mustard reference in the title of this post means... other than I'm tired and getting punchy and going to bed now.

May 2, 2012

May 2 - Four Feet Eight and One-Half Inches

  • Explored Golden Spike National Historic Site
  • Toad Miles Today: 74
  • Total Toad Miles Spring12:  980
  • Tonight's camp: Golden Spike RV Park in Brigham City, UT  elevation: 4,230
  • Weather: morning low 49f  afternoon high 68f; partly cloudy, cool
  • Notables: 1. There's nothing in the world like the sound of a real steam locomotive.  Today we had two.  2. The stunning amount of work that was accomplished by those who built the first transcontinental railroad.  3. Walking in the footsteps of history... on the actual roadbed put down by those tireless, scared, passionate, hungry, dedicated workers.
  • Link to photo album for today

I love trains... railroads. Since my childhood I've been fascinated by the whole idea of two steel rails running over the ground and big locomotives pulling all kinds of things, almost effortlessly it seems, to wherever the steel rails went. I also love history. And when both of these things come together in one place, well, we've just got to go and explore.

A few years ago I read Steven Ambrose's book "Nothing Like it in the World"... the story of the building of the first transcontinental railroad. I devoured it, and still recount stories from it, often to people with blank stares on their faces, wondering why I'm telling them this. But it was magical to me... how a complicated, messy, unbelievably difficult project, full of personal greed, graft, outright theft, political intrigue, hidden motives and agendas... the logistical nightmares and impossible obstacles... the dreams and hopes of a growing people are motivated and marshaled to do the immense amount of work necessary... and how, in just a few short years it all got done.

If you know the story, the Union Pacific Railroad started near Omaha and worked toward the west. The Central Pacific Railroad started in Sacramento and worked toward the east. And in 1869, May 10th to be precise, the two rail lines officially were joined at Promontory Summit... out in the middle of nowhere Utah. They laid 1,776 miles of iron rail, precisely 4 feet 8-1/2 inches apart the whole way. They crossed deserts, rivers, and mountains. They bored tunnels through solid granite. They built wooden trestles to span deep gullies. They moved immense amounts of rock and earth... cutting through hills here and filling in low areas there.

As we walked along the now abandoned original grade of the transcontinental railroad, hiked through large rocky "cuts" I marvel... no, I'm in awe at the accomplishment. This was not done with mechanized equipment... it was done with human and animal muscle, a few crude tools and implements, a little blasting powder...and that's all. They built 1,776 miles of track and never exceeded 1.7% grade (90 feet elevation change per mile), and only rarely exceeded 1.5%.  We had fun looking for, and finding, some of the original drill holes in the sides of the old rock cuts.

All the rails, the locomotives and train cars, and any other manufactured goods used by the Central Pacific on the west side of the project had to be shipped from the east coast... all the way around South America by ship. The Union Pacific, coming from the east, had to deal with irritated Indians, finding trees for wooden ties in Nebraska and Wyoming, heat in the summer, freezing cold in the winter.

The project was, perhaps, comparable in scope and difficulty for it's day to our 1960's space program to put a man on the moon. Both were considered nearly impossible to accomplish. Both took incredible resolve and national determination to complete.

When they symbolically dropped those ceremonial spikes (there were 4 of them) in the pre-drilled holes in that last laurelwood tie, everything changed.  Prior to the joining of the rails, travel between the east coast and California was a long, expensive, and arduous journey by steamship, stage coach, or walking. It would take months to accomplish and 1 in 10 people didn't survive the trip... mostly due to disease.

But after the joining, we moved from a 3 mile per hour world to a 30 mile per hour world. The journey across the continent was now affordable for many more people. Instead of taking months, it would take 10 or fewer days in relative comfort.

And there was a darker side for Native Americans. The railroads simplified travel and increased the rate of westward settlement which displaced the Indians and increased the extermination of remaining buffalo herds, thus forcing American Indians to assimilate or move to reservations. It was the end of their way of life that had endured for many hundreds of years. But time and mankind moves forward and sometimes we take two steps forward and a step back. It's not always fair.

The Golden Spike National Historic Site maintains and preserves the site where the two lines joined, and a few miles of original grade produced by the two crews. Both the UP and CP were paid for each completed mile of grading, and paid more once the track was laid and the line was approved and ready for service. Because the grading crews worked further ahead of the track laying crews, sometimes as much as a couple hundred miles ahead; and because congress hadn't yet determined the point at which the joining would take place, the grading crews actually over-shot each other... by over 200 miles. That's why, through here, you can find two distinct grades. Once congress determined that Promontory Summit would be the meeting place, all new grading stopped.

The Park Service also maintains and operates replicas of the two steam locomotives that were part of the Golden Spike ceremony in 1869. The originals were scraped about the turn of the century and no plans or blueprints could be found. So the two replicas were built by O'Connor Engineering Labs in Costa Mesa, CA. from photographs and an 1870's vintage locomotive design handbook.

OK, all you history and railroad buffs out there... here's the thing you really must see. Every day from May through October, the Park Service runs both locomotives out of their protective shed, runs them up and down the track, and then parks them just as the originals were parked on May 10, 1869 for the driving of the Golden Spike. I'm usually not too thrilled with reproductions of historic things... but when you hear the steam whistles and chugging sounds, see the smoke and steam and fly ash, and smell the burning wood and coal... something stirred inside me. You forget they are reproductions. These two marvelous pieces of historic engineering really added to the quality of our visit. And the two Park Service employees who operate the locomotives are in period dress, look and act the part, are knowledgeable and enjoyable to talk with about this piece of history.


Running right along the original transcontinental railroad grade, and just outside the Golden Spike National Historic Site is a spread-out complex of modern office and industrial buildings we had to investigate after leaving the Golden Spike National Historic Site. This is a rocket development facility of the ATK Thiokol Company -- the folks who successfully developed solid fuel rockets back in the 50s and 60s.  They're also the company who built the solid rocket boosters for the now defunct Space Shuttle System. Sorry, no tours at rocket plants... but they did have a fine outdoor display of all their wares... including a full size Shuttle booster. It turned into a good stop... and unexpected bonus at the end of the day.

May 1, 2012

May 1 - An Advance for Position

  • Move from North Salt Lake to Brigham City, UT.
  • Route:  I-15 all the way.
  • Fueled (diesel) at 4.069
  • Miles Today:  52
  • Total Spring12 bus-house miles:  1,815
  • Total Spring12 toad miles :  906
  • Tonight's camp: Golden Spike RV Park in Brigham, UT. elevation 4,230
  • Weather: morning low 51f, high 65f, rain early this morning, then clearing to partly cloudy.
  • Notables:  Found diesel fuel for 4.07
  • Link to photo album for today

Just a short repositioning move today from North Salt Lake to the Brigham City area... 52 miles. During our busy exploring day in SLC yesterday we were able to knock off all three things on our list (a trifecta!!)... making us free to move northward to be in position to visit the Golden Spike National Historic Site in the next day or two.  Even though we're way behind again on journal updates and photo albums, we agreed that if the weather was manageable we'd make the move today giving us more options between working and exploring.

Click to make more readable
Over the past few days we observed (maybe perceived is a better word) that fuel prices may be starting to ease somewhat. And our diesel fill today for "only" 4.07 seemed to back that up. So this afternoon I checked the Energy Information Administration website and found that there has indeed been some easing.  Check the graph (left) and you'll find a very slight leveling and downward trending in the past few weeks (2012 is the red line; the blue line is last year). Maybe, just maybe, the dire predictions of $5 or $6 fuel by summer is just more over-reaction by "sky is falling" pundits and the news media looking for an audience.

We think we'll be here for 2 or 3 nights. Our site is a pleasant one, helped out by having no neighbors on either side. There are a couple trees to give us afternoon shade and the perfect place to grill a couple steaks for dinner one night if I find the motivation. Hmmm. BEEF... it's what's for dinner.

7pm addendum
My closing comment in the paragraph above must have had some subliminal affect on me. After Dar returned home from a small shopping spree later this afternoon, we went out to find a couple bottles of wine and some real beer (all beer in Utah grocery stores is 3.2 beer??). Along the way we passed a restaurant that we'd heard about (with high reviews) called Maddox Ranch House. They grow their own beef, a specialty, and the prices are reasonable considering the portion size and the quality of the food.

So that's where we ended up for dinner tonight... and I got my beef-craving satisfied. Dar had a small portion of Prime Rib and I had my old standby... a Filet Mignon.  It was the best beef we've had in a long, long, time.

Now for a long walk around the park.

Beyond Branson; Pondering Future Travel

This past Tuesday, we moved from Branson to a very nice Corps of Engineer’s Park on Wappapello Lake.  We’re in the Redman Creek CG. This fac...