Summer Travel Map

Friday, September 30, 2011

More Washington Wine Country

September 30, 2011
Prosser, Washington

After getting back on the road in record time in Spokane, we made the easy half-day drive down to Prosser, in the Yakima Valley wine region, in the afternoon.  We passed through here last year after spending a few days in Walla Walla, where we had such a good wine time that we didn't partake here.  So, we spent this afternoon sampling some of the local wines, from Hogue (the biggest and most widely distributed producer in the area) to Heaven's Cave and Alexandria Nicole right next door, then Apex and Bunnell Family Cellars near our Park, Wine Country RV Park (how could we pass that up?).  We had dinner at the Bunnell's restaurant, "Wine O'Clock".  Fun is!

Hogue is probably the largest producer in Yakima, one of the tops in Washington.

We loved this sticker, just like we love Washington wines.  But wait; we love Napa wines, too!

Our kind of place!

Wine flights with dinner?  Oh, OK...

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

A Quick Fix in Spokane

September 29, 2011
Spokane, Washington

Tuesday was a nice day for driving, and we had an easy route: fuel up at the Flying J Truck Stop right next to where we were parked, get on I-90 West, and drive.  Actually, it was a simpler, albeit longer, drive than we'd planned.  Right before Sturgis there were highway signs indicating that vehicles over 26,000 pounds (yes, that's us) should avoid US-212, our planned route to Montana.  So, Geri used the iPad to access the Montana DOT while we were driving along, and confirmed that bridge construction would require us to bypass US-212.  In this case, the best alternative was to stay on I-90, even though that added about 50 miles to the day's drive.

We made it to our "destination", a nice quiet Rest Area in Greycliff, Montana, with no problems and had a restful night.  In the morning, I caught a nice sunrise as we were getting ready to hit the road.

Unfortunately, that's when the snag hit.  As I was walking around the coach doing a visual inspection, I noticed gear oil on one of the wheels, one that's been trouble ever since we've owned the motorhome.  I'd replaced the axle cover while we were in Connecticut, but that apparently didn't fix the leak.  This time, enough oil had leaked out that the bearing had overheated, so we knew we needed to stop somewhere for repairs.  I patched it up so we could travel, and thought about options.  Our next planned destination was Spokane, Washington.  I figured that a stop along the way in Montana at a truck shop could yield a "sure, we can fix it but we've got to get parts from Spokane" response, so I Googled repair places in Spokane, found Pacific Power (a chain we've used in the past for engine and transmission service), called and scheduled ourselves in this morning.  What did we ever do before smartphones?

I stopped more frequently than normal during the day and kept checking the axle, and other than running a little hot (checking with an infrared thermometer, another handy gadget), we were at least stable to travel.  We stopped for fuel in Butte and pushed on, soon crossing through northern Idaho.  I'd planned to stay at the Welcome Center just across the Idaho-Washington border, but it was being reconstructed so we pushed on.  Geri used the Exit Guide to find a Flying J a few miles on, so we headed there.  Coincidentally, as we got off the exit, Pacific Power was right across the street, so we pulled in there, let them know we'd be ready in the morning, and found a place to park in their lot.

Today, we were up early and I had the coach parked in front of their bays before they opened.  We checked in, they said they would get us in as soon as they could, depending on work already scheduled in front of us, and the service writer gave us some pointers on breakfast and things to see.  At the local Denny's, we were seated near a large group of landscapers heading for a golf outing.  Geri got to chatting with the owner and, surprise-surprise, our waitress came over and told us that they paid for our breakfast.  Now that doesn't happen every day!

After breakfast, we stopped at the shop and could see that they were already working on the axle, a very good sign.  They did have to get parts from a local supplier, but that was no problem.

So, we headed for Downtown Spokane to kill some time.  The riverfront park was a relaxing place to spend a couple of "found" hours; Spokane is another place we've been through before on the Interstate but never explored.  I wandered around, taking a few pictures, while Geri read on her iPad.  The Spokane River runs right through and has several waterfalls, but all the water was diverted.  I've seen a lot of road and bridge reconstruction, but never a river reconstruction project before.  But, it'll all be better/more stable when done.  The area was also the site of the 1974 World's Fair, so there are several artifacts left over from that.

This was an interesting two-level fountain.

World's largest "Radio Flyer"; what else can I say?

Saw a little parade of "locals"...

This clock tower was built in 1902 by the Burlington Northern Railroad, and donated with the rest of the land here for the 1974 World's Fair.

Interesting sculpture along the sidewalk...

The curve of the wall and walk struck my eye, and the foliage was just starting to turn.

River?  What river?

With the water diverted, construction workers are doing all kinds of projects in the riverbed.

There are several pedestrian and vehicular bridges across the Spokane River.

This is one of the two powerhouses producing electricity in downtown.

Leaves just starting to show color, it was a nice sunny day.

There's a tram that rides tourists down to the lower falls.

The Lower Falls are still wet, with water from the power plants still flowing.

We headed back to the coach after a few hours and found everything all fixed.  As soon as the bill is ready, we'll pay and be on our way, probably right after Noon.  It's never fun to need a repair on the road, but we were fortunate that we could still drive and found a reputable shop that got us fixed right away.  That four-leaved clover I found earlier this year is still working!

Monday, September 26, 2011

Buffalo Roundup

September 26, 2011
Custer State Park, South Dakota

Today we went to the annual Buffalo Roundup.  The State maintains a herd of buffalo in Custer State Park.  Once a year, they round most of them up and prep the herd for winter.  Inoculations are made, some animals are identified to be culled and sold, and everything is inventoried.  And, for the past 40+ years, it's been a public spectacle.  These days, they should really call it the "people roundup", since there are 1,300 buffalo and estimates ranging from 20-40,000 spectators. 

The festivities began at 9:30 AM but parking opened at 6:15, so we were up at oh-dark-thirty and on the road to the Park, pups walked and watered, lunch packed, and cameras ready.  It's about a 45 minute drive to the Park, but we ran into a long line of cars and busses and the last 3-4 miles took nearly an hour.  We were parked by 8:30, so there was no pressure.  We found the best spot we could, packed in about 5-deep along the ridge overlooking the corrals, and settled in.  We were soon rewarded with the sight of the herd coming right toward us. 

The corrals were prepared and waiting for the herd.

"Watch your step"!

The crowd was ready.  We were in the "North Viewing Area"; the "South Viewing Area" is across the valley.

Geri's ready!

We were right behind the area designated for the Press.

"Spike" was ready...

Al Jazeera was represented...

And here comes the herd!  

Maybe it's not quite right to use trucks instead of horses?  Especially when someone's exhaust starts a small brush fire for extra excitement?
We hung around after waiting for the outbound traffic (this event generates more visitors than the Park sees all year, so traffic management isn't one of the staffs' strong suits) to subside.  We ate lunch and watched a lone antelope check us out.  

The herd was all rounded up...

...and this poor guy just wanted us to leave so he could get his pasture back!
After an hour or so, we were able to extricate the Rover and head home.  After a short nap, we did a little pre-travel preparation and then went out for a nice (albeit expensive) dinner at Dakotah Steakhouse, right near "home".  Tomorrow, we'll finish up and head west...

Sunday, September 25, 2011

It's great to be "home"

September 25, 2011
Box Elder, SD

We've had a productive week here at our "home", since we maintain our legal domicile here in South Dakota.  Although we spent the first couple of nights at the Rapid City Elks Lodge, we then moved over to the new campground our mail service has installed.  When they moved their offices our of leased space in Rapid City, they constructed a larger mail processing facility and added a 15-space full service campground.  This is very convenient for us, since we have both virtual (mailbox) and physical (campground) addresses handy, which makes things like voter registration easier.

So, we were able to handle all the state business we had queued up: I got my license renewed, Geri got a new one with the corrected address, and we got her handicap parking permit renewed (Why does a "permanent" permit expire every five years?).  We shopped a bit, we used up a bunch of the food in the refrigerator and freezer, Geri made a great meatloaf and a new recipe for Bolognese sauce with Penne.

We're wrapping up our visit tomorrow, so today I washed to coach and Rover.  It took all day, not because of the time required but because I needed to wait for the sun to shift around from east to west.  I puttered with a few other small projects, Geri finished up the laundry, and we did our meal planning and food shopping for the next few days in the down time, so it was a productive day all the way around.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Warmer, good!

September 17, 2011
Pierre, SD

Today's drive was almost due south.  "Almost" because we continued west on US-2 for a short distance before turning south on ND-3.  We stopped for breakfast at the "Corner Cafe" in Rugby, North Dakota.  They're located at the "geographical center of North America.  Don't believe me?  They have a monument out front and everything.  I'm not sure I agree with their calculations (Acapulco's probably close, but the Arctic Circle?), but we've actually been to the other two of the four compass points in our travels, so that's cool.

We followed ND-3 south to I-94.  This is an area that's home to numerous small lakes and ponds.  Since they wanted to make the road relatively straight, there are all sorts of causeways that run right through them.  Last spring's flooding did a number on these stretches of road, and construction resources are obviously stretched thin.  There's no way that they'll get all these fixed before winter.

After a quick jog west on I-94, we turned south again on US-83, except when we ran into a "little" detour due to more reconstruction.  In this case, we were sent 21 miles east then 22 miles south before heading back west on US-14 to US-83.  We were then able to make our way to Pierre, our South Dakota State Capitol.  We found a nice spot at the local Super-Wally and had a relaxing evening.

A few thoughts on North Dakota:  it's dirty and it's not likely to get better any time soon.  It's not the fact that only 40% of the roads are paved so everything gets covered in dust.  It's more that the people don't seem to care, in a "who cares if all the Walmart bags are blowing in the wind" or a "what do you mean I'm not supposed to throw the coffee cup/pop bottle/ashtray contents out on the road"  kind of way.  Many areas seem to have a boom-town or "wild west" attitude in places but it's borne of the tragedy of flooding as opposed to more permanent development opportunities.  All in all, we won't likely be back for a while...

Friday, September 16, 2011

Heading South - NOW!

September 16, 2011
Spirit Lake Casino, Devils Lake, North Dakota

We'd originally planned to spend a few days crossing Minnesota then North Dakota before heading South near Williston and making our way to Rapid City in Western South Dakota.  Accordingly, we left Itasca and headed West on MN-200, crossing into North Dakota, passing the tallest structure in North America (who knew?), and making it to the Spirit Lake Casino, just south of Devils Lake late in the afternoon.  We found this whole area to be "under construction", with miles of dirt and mud roads, dodging flagmen and construction vehicles.  Apparently, they're trying to repair damage from this year's flooding before the snow flies.

If you squint, you can see the 2,000'+ TV mast to the right.  It was the tallest structure in the world until 2008 when something in Dubai took over.  We could have gotten closer via several miles of dirt road.  With a 45' bus? No thanks...

OK, it's really not that cold but we're smart enough to take a hint!

 Well, it's beginning to look like they won't make it.  It's just too darn cold, and smart retirees/snowbirds know that, if you wake up with frost, you'd better be heading South but quick.  So, we're spending the night boondocking here at the casino (they have 50+ full-hookup sites but they're all taken by workers on the construction project), then changing direction to head South.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Mississippi Headwaters

September 15, 2011
Itasca State Park, Park George, Minnesota

If you're passing through central Minnesota, it's pretty much a given that you need to stop here.  Lake Itasca is the "official" (it was disputed for centuries) location of the headwaters of the Mississippi River. 

We got a late start, leaving Duluth close to 10:00, but we didn't have far to go so that wasn't an issue.  We were quickly back on US-2 heading West, and several hours later we made the turn for Itasca State Park.  I'd reserved a site online, and it turned out to be a very desirable one (I'd tried for two nights but everything was booked).  No matter, since we were parked and set up by 2:00 and had plenty of time to explore the Park.  After a quick stop at the Visitor's Center, we were off on the loop road around the Lake.  We did the obligatory stop at the headwaters, taking our pictures, snapping some "couples shots" for others, and relaxing for a while to see if any of the (mostly retiree) crazies who felt the need to cross the rocks or wade across the cold water would fall in.  None did, so we completed our drive around the "Wilderness Loop" and were soon back home.

My favorite explorer!

Well, here it is, the headwaters of the Mississippi.  On the upper side of the rocks, Lake Itasca.  On the lower, "The Mighty Mississippi".

I got pictures from one side...

...and Geri from the other.  Which one of us crossed the rocks?

Neither!  I used the sturdy wooden bridge 50' downstream!

We had a nice pasta dinner (pre-made sauce - "gravy" if you're from Philly) and were soon bundled up for another chilly night.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Until Duluth freezes over...

September 14, 2011
Duluth, Minnesota

We planned a three-day stop in Duluth and were quite surprised when a cold air blast hit the region.  Things were reasonably normal when we left Munising, continuing west on M-28 then US-2 right into Duluth, just over the border from Wisconsin.  Then things turned downright cold, with waves of squalls passing through from the Northwest.

Accordingly, we didn't get much done in terms of sightseeing and pictures.  OK, we didn't get anything done!  We did some shopping and Geri made a batch of her Famous Chili.  She caught up on laundry.  I paid the bills.  Pretty boring, right?

Well, we'll just have to stop again when the weather's more favorable.  There is plenty to see and do, with a nice waterfront and several scenic drives/overlooks.  Topology-wise, the city reminds me of a mini-San Francisco, with steep, terraced hills and a compact feel.  We stayed at the Lakehead Boat Basin, a marina with a sideline as an RV Park, so we had a prime spot right on the waterfront.  It's definitely worth a return visit, maybe in August...

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Waterfalls and Another Sunset

September 11, 2011
Munising, Michigan

Today was a bright, clear day.  Unfortunately, it reminded us all too much of 10 years ago...


We were up early and off for a nice drive, east along the Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore.  As we knew, the rocks are best viewed from the water, but we did find some interesting spots.  Our first stop was the turnaround point: Grand Marais.  We had our picnic lunch there overlooking the small harbor, then worked our way back to Munising.

We had lunch at a nicely-landscaped pavilion overlooking Grand Marais Harbor.


Alger Falls from the overlook.  193 steps down to the Falls.  Really?

Now, isn't this the weirdest little seed pod you've ever come across?

This little guy was indignant that I was coming too close to "his" tree...

Logging was big in this area 100 years ago, and there are still some of the artifacts on display, like this two-horsepower log mover.

This area is called the "log slide", where timbers were rolled down to Lake Superior and floated to Grand Marais around the point.

This little creek spills right out across the beach into the Lake.

Another shipwreck, this one a "skow schooner" (flat-bottomed) that went aground in the 1870s.

Munising Falls, just east of town.

Wagner Falls is just 100' from M-94 south of Munising.

Back at the campground, we met up again with Henry and Marcia and headed for the beach for the sunset.  This time, we brought chairs; much more comfortable!