Sunday, July 31, 2005

Anniversary

Yesterday was Winn and Donna's 34th Anniversary. They were kind enough to invite us along to dinner last night and we had a great time. During the day we had some interesting experiences while shopping and exploring. As time becomes available we will describe them in more detail.

Today we will try to take care of some more housekeeping and hope to work in some more sight seeing with the Hortons. We have a couple of choices as to what to do and see and will just have to see how our time works out. I just cannot say enough good things about our friends here in Montana. We could not find more gracious hosts than Winn and Donna. Winn is a western history buff and has told us a lot of interesting facts about the Lewis and Clark Expedition that passed through the Yellowstone Valley. He also travels a lot in the area with his work and knows the roads really well. Our stay in Billings has been a major highlight of the trip and we will always remember our good times here. After today we will make that final push up into Canada to our destination, the Banff and Jasper area of Alberta.

Saturday, July 30, 2005

Billings Exploration

We spent a delightful day with our friends, Winn and Donna, exploring the Billings area. It is a real privilege to have such nice friends in this area to help us by pointing out history and features that we would have otherwise missed.







The highlight of the day was a visit to Pompey's Pillar. This is an isolated tower of rock in the Yellowstone Valley that contains the only physical evidence of Lews and Clarke's exploration of the area. Clark carved his name and the date, July 25, 1806, on the side of this rock tower. I asked the ranger how they knew that this was an authentic artifact and he replied that the carving was well documented in Clark's journal and that the signature was exactly in the location described by Clark. In the visitor center an older gentleman, who was obviously steeped in the history of the Lewis and Clark expedition in this area, gave Winn and I a detailed history of their travels. Pompy was the nickname that Clark gave to Sacagawea's son. A quote from a Lewis and Clark history site reads:

Sacagawea’s son Jean Baptiste Charbonneau, or “Pompy,” was three months old when the Corps of Discovery left Fort Mandan. His parents accepted William Clark’s offer to educate him, and he moved into Clark’s St. Louis home when he was six. At age 18, he went to Europe for six years with Duke Paul of Wuerttemburg, an enthusiastic early tourist of the American West. Returning to the U.S., Jean Baptiste became a mountain man and fur trader, and a guide whose clients included John C. Frémont. He later settled in California, and died in Oregon, en route to Montana, in 1866.
More info on Pompy can be found by clicking here.

We ended great day we had a barbecue at Winn and Donna Horton's beautiful home just outside Billings. We watched an amazing sunset on their pation while we ate a great meal. The temperatures that had been in the high 90s during the day dropped rapidly and a steady dry wind kept us nice and comfortable. Their home is located on top of one of the rolling grass hills in the area just west of Billings with a view that is priceless. Our plans are to spend a couple more days here before continuing on towards Canada. The big question for us right now is which route to take. There are many appealing places to see here in Montana and the route we take depends on whether or not we want to see those before going into Canada. We'll study the maps and look at the time it will take before deciding.

Friday, July 29, 2005

Montana

We are now in Billings, Montana. After a bit of a foul up by the campground last night we are setup. We called ahead and reserved a campsite at the KOA here in Billings. We pulled in and took care of the paperwork only to find a camper in our assigned site. We drove back to the office and the young lady went down and talked to the people in the site. It seems that the man was in the hospital due to a heart attack. He is fine now and his son lives here in Billings so they had family here also. They put us in a temporary site and gave us a 15 percent discount. We will have to move to another site today but that is ok.

Yesterday, we drove from Devil's Tower, Wyoming to Billings, Montana. It was a bit of a long drive for us. We usually do not like to do more than 250 miles a day but this was 300. That extra hour is a killer and makes the leg of the trip seem like a real push.

As we entered Montana the scenery changed from the choppy rolling hills we have been experiencing to very long and gentle climbs and descents. The views became even more vast allowing us to see very far over the treeless grassy hills. After driving for a while we were treated to the sight of snow capped mountains in the distance, the Big Horns. What a sight. We were pretty excited about seeing them for the first time. We made a gradual turn to the north but the Big Horns remained in view for a long time and we really enjoyed looking over to our left at those beautiful mountains. The Big Horns are the place where Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid hid out from the law at a place called the Hole in the Wall.

We took a very short side trip and visited the Custer Battleground Memorial. Our Golden Eagle Passport that lets us in any National Park or Memorial has more than paid for itself by now and we entered this special place with no charge. There is a small paved road that meanders through the battleground for many miles. Even though it is quite narrow and we had no idea if there was a turn around at the end we took it and we are glad we did. We were able to visit each key location of this famous event. There are clusters of grave markers in places where the soldiers fell. Many of them are marked with a simple, "US Soldier Fell Here." We also discovered that there is a National Cemetery at this location.

We read about the battle and read each sign at the key locations on the battleground. It seems that Custer had quite an ego and when he came up to the area from the south he spotted what he thought was a fairly good sized Sioux village down on the Greasy Grass Creek. In his typical style he made a quick decision to attack the village. He had attacked and burned a village a few years earlier even though the tribe led by Black Kettle had agreed to comply with the army's demands to lay down arms. He had slaughtered the entire village and burned it to the ground. The northern plains Indians were eager to get revenge on "Long Hair" as they called Custer. Click here for more info on that event.

From Custer's vantage point he was looking at only a small portion of the village since there was a large bluff by the creek that his the major portion of it. He may have only seen less than a third of it. Custer dispatched Major Reno to proceed to the south and attack from that side while he waved his hat and shouted, "Custer's Luck boys. We have found one of the biggest indian villages in Montana." Little did he know that the Sioux had gathered the entire Sioux Nation for a last ditch attack against the whites. When Custer rode over the bluff into the village he found that he had decided to attack the entire Sioux Nation led by the greatest war chiefs that they had. Sitting Bull, Crazy Horse, and several others.

Reno's attack from the other side of the village did not go well and his troops were wiped out rather quickly. This left Custer immersed in a battle of his own impestous origins with the entire Sioux Nation consisting of thousands of their greatest warriors. His troops of a couple of hundred or so did not stand a chance. The indians attacked ferociously, remember it was Custer who attacked their village first, and proceeded to wipe out Custer's attacking troops in less than half an hour. The entire slaughter of our boys was the result of George Custer's desire to elevate his status as an indian killer extraordinaire and his inflated ego. After reading the details of this famous event one can only say that the Sioux did what any group of people would do when attacked. They defended themselves. Their ferocity was just elevated by the fact that they had been attacked on all fronts by our army that had commited many atrocities against them. This is a dark stain on our history and the native american tribes are still paying a sad legacy for the way the white man treated them in the west. If you are interested in reading more there is a good account here.

Wednesday, July 27, 2005

Devil's Tower

The landscape is now changing from the vast prairies to much hillier terrain. We are skirting the Black Hills formation in western South Dakota. As we continue westward into Wyoming the hills are on each side of us as we follow a valley with very long grades and descents. The view is magnificent. We pass Sturgis, South Dakota where the annual motorcycle gathering takes place every August. This is a major event with bikers from all over the country meeting to show off their bikes and see others. One billboard announces that the Tuttle Family from Orange County Choppers will be there showing off their latest products. Billboards are under construction one after the other along I-90 with mostly Budweiser ads on them. That should give you an idea of what this event will be like. We pass on Sturgis and continue westward. Our goal is the Devil's Tower where we plan to spend the night.

Arriving at Devil's Tower we are astonished at this bizarre geological formation. It is the lava plug of an ancient volcano that is standing after the cone shaped mountain surrounding it was eroded away. This is a magnificent place and the tower has the feel of an ancient sacred place. We see it from our camper and drove to various observation points. This is a very special place. In one location we saw native american prayer cloths tied in a small tree. The tower and the surrounding lands are sacred to several indian tribes and we feel that ourselves. The location is fairly far from the interstate highway and is in the Black Hills National Forest. We saw several deer and as we look out of our front window in the Mothership we see a pasture of gently rolling hills with horses grazing as the sun sets on the Devil's Tower. There is an outdoor showing of "Close Encounters of the Third Kind" in a little while. We are going to attend for a bit to relive that old classic movie that was filmed here. We both are pretty tired because of the time changes and the driving so neither of us anticipates sticking it out for the whole movie. The movie starts at 9 pm Mountain Time and that is 11 pm Eastern Daylight Time which our bodies are still running on. But, how could we pass up an outdoor showing of that move at the Devil's Tower? I ask you, "How cool is that?"

Mount Rushmore














We reached Rapid City, South Dakota today. Our first stop was the obligatory visit to Mount Rushmore to see the presidents carved into the side of the mountain. We drove up to the entrance to the parking area as if we knew what we were doing. We had no idea if they could accomodate a fifty foot rig consisting of a 36 foot motorhome with a car in tow. As we paid our fee the lady grabbed a walkie talkie and said, "I have a really long RV with a car in tow." Someone on the other end responded and she told us to take the left lane and somone would meet us in a golf cart. Sure enough as we pulled in right past the main entrance to the park a guy in a golf cart circled in front of us like those "Follow Me" trucks at airports for airplanes. He led us to a parking place and for a moment we were in a dilema as to which we to go. We relaxed for a few minutes with the generator running and the A/C on and prepared to depart on a long hike. As we stepped outside we looked behind us and there were the presidents on the mountain side. We then walked about a hundred yards under a covered parking area where we took an elevator up one level to find ourselves at the main entrance. The Mount Rushmore concession is really setup well as we only had to walk a short distance. We took our pictures including some pictures of a Canadian family who asked us to take a group shot with the sculptures in the background. They did the same for us. We returned to the camper where we relaxed some more and ate some sandwiches. We talked about how amazing it was to be in our own motorhome with Mount Rushmore right behind us.

Interior, SD


We slept last night with an electric blanket on, for Bob, and right now we are running the furnace to take the chill out. It is 51 degrees outside. What an amazing change for us.

Today we will continue our westward trek and hope to see Mt. Rushmore, the Crazy Horse Monument, and the Devils Tower. Remember "Close Encounters of the Third Kind?"

Tuesday, July 26, 2005

Badlands













We stopped for the night in the Badlands of South Dakota. The landscape is amazing. We talked about pushing on to Rapid City but are glad we stopped here. We are camped on the White River in the very heart of the Badlands. We are now in the Mountain Time Zone and are two hours earlier than Eastern Daylight Time. The small town that is closest to us is Interior, South Dakota. There are 69 residents in the town. Click on the thumbnails for a larger view.

Chill

There is a chill in the air this morning. It is in the 50s here in Sioux Falls. I was tempted to turn on the heat in the Mothership but I know that turning on lights and cooking breakfast will warm it up. I am going to make coffee and enjoy it outside on the picnic table at our site. Getting ready to be underway will be a breeze today in these cool temperatures. The hight is only suppose to be in the low 70s.

Monday, July 25, 2005

USGS Visit














Today I took a tour of the USGS EROS Data Center. It was an interesting tour and I saw many familiar tools and heard familiar terminology. In spite of my love of geography I did not get a pleasant feeling returning to that corporate environment of geography. This is not to belittle the magnificent tools and data processing that is done at this wonderful facility but rather an observation of my own journey away from that world. I am more comfortable being a customer now than being part of the world that processes and delivers these data. I have great admiration for those who carry on with this mission but I am no longer part of it.

Sea of Corn

Traveling in a motorhome for an extended distance is much like navigating a ship across the sea. Stopping in campgrounds is similar to docking a ship in a port. Both vehicles are independent when in motion and connect to shore power when stopped. Traveling, as we are, completely across the country requires some similar navigation as well. Tonight we are docked north of severe weather down south in Des Moines, Iowa due to a decision to turn north three or four days ago based on a weather forecast. We are now on the cooler side of a strong cold front that is generating tornado watches south of us. Some luck and some good processing of available data made this happen. The analogy could be carried further as pointed out by my cousin who used to live in Nebraska. He compared the rolling hills covered by corn and soy beans to waves on the sea. It is a good analogy.

USGS Data Center














As we often do, we drove around the local area as much as possible after setting up our campsite. Ten miles down the road from our campground we found the Holy Grail of geographic data. This was one of the organizations we often dealt with to obtain satellite or aerial imagery. Click here to visit their web site. A Google search on USGS Eros Data Center reveals a wealth of geographic data available from them. Click here for the results of that search.





We convinced a very professional guard to let us take some pictures. They have public tours and we are debating about taking one of the tours. Both of us are exhausted from staying up late last night talking to some Canadians about their country while doing laundry. We will have to see how we feel today. We may need a day of rest to catch up. It sounds appealing but since I am no longer working in the field and we are more interested in viewing landscapes than analyzing them we may just rest or make a short hop towards the west.





We went into Sioux Falls last night and looked up the brother of Daniel who runs the Mexican Restaurant near our home. Luis, his brother, was very hospitable and we got to meet the whole family who are also very nice. They have very beautiful kids including a one month old daughter. We had a wonderful visit with them talking about the restaurant, family and friends. What a small world. For those who do not know there is a Mexican Restaurant that is near our home that we love. We have gotten to know the owner Daniel rather well and discovered that he has a brother, Luis, who runs a restaurant here in Sioux Falls, South Dakota. On the off chance that we might come here we got his name and number. When we arrived at the Puerta Vallarta Restaurant here in Sioux Falls Luis was not working but he came in to meet with his and introduced us to his family. We had a delightful visit with them and, of course, a great meal.

Sunday, July 24, 2005

Yogi










We are at the Yogi Bear Campground in Brandon, South Dakota near Sioux Falls. Here are some maps.

Position Update - Lunch Break

Iowa











Corn fields, soy bean fields. Corn fields, soy bean fields. Corn fields, soy bean fields. Corn fields, soy bean fields. Corn fields, soy bean fields. Corn fields, soy bean fields. Corn fields, soy bean fields. Corn fields, soy bean fields. Corn fields, soy bean fields. Corn fields, soy bean fields. Corn fields, soy bean fields. Corn fields, soy bean fields. Corn fields, soy bean fields. Corn fields, soy bean fields. Corn fields, soy bean fields. Corn fields, soy bean fields.












Wind generator at Stuart, Iowa.

Corn fields, soy bean fields. Corn fields, soy bean fields. Corn fields, soy bean fields. Corn fields, soy bean fields. Corn fields, soy bean fields. Corn fields, soy bean fields. Corn fields, soy bean fields. Corn fields, soy bean fields. Corn fields, soy bean fields. Corn fields, soy bean fields. Corn fields, soy bean fields. Corn fields, soy bean fields. Corn fields, soy bean fields. Corn fields, soy bean fields. Corn fields, soy bean fields. Corn fields, soy bean fields.

Saturday, July 23, 2005

Power is Back

The power is back on. Our neighbor came over and gave us a "thumbs up." So, we are now cooling on shore power.

Heat

100 degrees. I think today was the first time I saw that on our car themometer. We stayed in Des Moines an extra day just to rest and run some errands. We drove downtown and explored the city but due to the heat we did not get out of our car except to shop. We are staying nice and cool in the Mothership but just a few minutes ago the power went off. We started out generator right away and are running it now to keep our A/C units going. The campground office reports that the power outage is for the entire area of Waukee, Iowa which is the small community we are in. They have no idea how long it will be but our generator is humming away happily. Glad I changed the fuel filters and checked it all out before we left.

Red Roads

We have been traveling the interstates for much of the trip. Blue roads on the map. We did take route 63 north from Columbia, Missouri to Des Moines, Iowa. A red road on the map. These roads offer a chance to drive through small towns and enjoy a more intimate view of the land. This sooner than planned turn to the north also started moving us away from the incredible heat that the area has been experiencing. It worked. Here are the temperatures yesterday of our departure point, Columbia, Missouri, and our destination Des Moines Iowa.

The area that we traveled consisted of rolling hills and beautifully maintained farms. We commented that we felt as though we were passing through an immaculately maintained park displaying farm life. Nothing was out of place. Everything was clean and meticulously maintained. There is a religious sect that live in the area of northern Missouri who, like the Amish, drive horse drawn carriges for transportation and we saw some of them traveling in the special lane reserved for them on highway 63. Click here for is the link to Wikipedia's overview of Missouri.

We departed from the planned route shown in the first graphic and took route 36 westward to pick up a part of the interstate leading into Des Moines since our destination campground was on the west side of the city. We had made reservations earlier using our cell phone. This slight change of plan was due to our first campground choice on the east side of the city being full. That one had 95 motorhomes coming in as a group which took all of the remaining sites.

We both needed to renew some prescription medicines and Missouri has no Walgreens but Iowa does. We called the prescriptions in on the cell phone and found the pharmacies to be unusually friendly and helpful. The store we called, the one closest to our campsite, didn't have all of the medicines that we needed and without asking they called the next closest store and coordinated getting the prescriptions filled for us.

Bob used his cellular connection and the laptop to locate the campground and the drug stores as well as directions to them. The trip went flawlessly and the pharmacies were extremely courteous and helpful. We have found this to be true of Walgreens no matter where we travel with one exception and that is the store closest to our home. We always have problems with that store and yet every other one we deal with on the road is an example of courtesy and helpfulness. We have talked a lot about that and think that it might be due to the very large customer load on that store.

We were both very tired and slept soundly here in Des Moines, Iowa. It is our first visit to Iowa and we will traverse it further today as we continue north. Click here for the Wikipedia link to Iowa. We were interested to read that western Iowa is an area of Loess hills that are hundreds of feet thick. What is Loess? Click here for the Wikipedia pages on that very interesting topic. Yes, wind does have something to do with it. That can be your assignment for today.

Friday, July 22, 2005

Northerly Course Change?

This map says it all. It is the forecasted high temperatures for the day. Our senior navigator, Bob, is considering a northerly course change to avoid the lighter colored areas which seem to be strung out along much of our route. We are also discussing the possibility of avoiding I-70 and Kansas City by taking an alternate route, 63, which is adjacent to our campground and leads to the north.

Thursday, July 21, 2005

Africa Hot

Like a line in a movi e, "It is Africa hot." We left Perry, Missouri this morning and made the turn west at St. Louis onto Interstate 70. This entire area is suffering a severe heat wave. Traffic on I-70 was very heavy coming to a stop about three times. Rather than fight it we
decided to stop here at Columbia, Missouri. We needed a shopping stop anyway to replenish some of our food supplies and Bob needs to get a replacement for his nice Stanley pipe pliers that he accidentally left at the last campground.


Status Map


This is our progress so far. 1,990 miles to go. Today we hope to reach Columbia, Mo and after that make the big turn in Kansas City to the north. This is one big country. The true Great Plains do not really begin until one passes west of Kansas City so we will miss that as we turn north towards the Dakotas. The Great Plains that we will see will be up in Alberta, Canada.

Classic Diner

This morning we ate breakfast at the Classic Diner in Perryville, Missouri. The diner had been recommended by some campers at the campground as well as the campground manager. We were not disappointed. The setting was fun and the food was great. Here are some photos and if you look closely you can find Barbara in couple of them.










Wednesday, July 20, 2005

Perryville, Missouri

We left Red Bay, Alabama this morning at 8 am and started north. There are a surprisingly high number of new metal roofs in northern Alabama and western Tennesee. Large homes had them. Small homes had them. Huge commercial buildings had them and small commercial buildings had them. We debated the reasons this might be true but didn't come up with a satisfactory answer. My theory was that they were good protection against hail storms but that did not hold up either so we never really figured out why this was the case.

At noon we crossed the Mississippi River after traveling some astonishingly good roads out of Alabama and Tennesee. Crossing to the west the interstate, I-55, turned from a westerly course to a northerly one taking aim on St. Louis, Missouri. The land reflects its origins as river sediment and is as flat as the water surface that made it, the Mississippi. We traversed the river flood plain northward and after 580 miles called it a day.

We are now in Perryville, Missouri at a nice KOA campground. Bob tried to setup our satellite tv system but the elevation of the dish at this latitude is 45 degrees and while we have a clear shot from this campsite there are some trees about a hundred yards away whose tops seem to be causing us just enough loss of signal that we have no tv. That is really nothing important to us as we are both enjoying two or three books each. We just came in from outside where the sound of crickets and frogs is deafening. Bob even saw a firefly pass overhead. It is still opressively warm outside though so we didn't stay outside very long.

The next stretch of the trip takes us into the ever widening spaces of the great plains. St. Louis was the staging area for the great covered wagon trains that traveled westward when the west was still unpopulated. I suppose back then it was almost like Cape Canaveral is to our present day explorers as the west was an unexplored and dangerous place. The number of campgrounds seems to be dwindling. Kansas, Nebraska, and the Dakotas have few and they are very far apart. It is hard to look at a map and appreciate the vastness of this country. Just to get from our present location to the Dakotas is going to take us a few days if we drive only five hours a day. I might have to put in some more 500 mile days to get some distance covered.

We checked the weather in Banff, Alberta today and the high at 6pm their time was 72 degrees. That is quite a contrast to the temps here that are in the 90s with a heat index over 100. We are determined to continue north until the days cool down. That may take us a week or so and will take us across an area that sometimes has powerful thunderstorms. Fortunately, most of the tornado producing storms take place in the spring but the towering clouds can still contain hail and dangerous lightning. We will have a weather eye out at all times and will be using our cellular connection to check for storm warnings as we traverse that area.

West of The Mississippi

We crossed the Mississippi River at noon and are now traveling north towards St. Louis, Missouri. I-55 parallels the big river and is absolutely flat since it is on the floodplain. We are stopped for lunch at the Missouri Welcome Center which is about 3 miles from New Madrid, Missouri. That is where one of the greatest earthquakes in this country occurred. It was so powerful that it altered the course of the Mississippi River creating Reelfoot Lake. We hope the fault holds together until we get a little further down the road.

On The Road Again

Today we leave our new friends, Jim and Pat, Carol, and many others whose names we did not learn. We have heard stories about their travels and experiences. We also say goodbye to Kevin and Dwayne the two hard working young men who did our repairs. The windshield repairs were done under warranty with no questions asked and that amounted to almost seven hundred dollars. The support and service here at Tiffen Motorhomes is unbeatable. The camaradie in this campground is unlike any we have ever seen. Most likely it is because every motorhome in this location was made by Tiffen.

Yesterday, we drove over to Russelville, Alabama to visit the Super Walmart there. The drive was beautiful through rolling hills. We did our shopping and decided to eat lunch while there. We don't like the usual fast food establsihments but will use them if we have to. Yesterday, we were in luck. We spotted a place called "The Daily Bread Barbecue." That had to be it so we went inside and found Miss Emma Mae was a happy and friendly black lady and one look at the hamburgers on the grill and we knew we were in the right place. There are a lot of stereotypes about Alabama and racial problems but none of that existed here. Customers and employees were black and white and one felt instantly that it was a happy place. We ordered a couple of burgers and enjoyed them amidst the local lunch crowd. By crowd I mean about a dozen or so people. Barbara had boiled cabbage as a side dish and Bob had field peas. The crowd cleared out and as we finished our one slice of lemon ice box pie Miss Emma Mae started singing a gospel song quietly in a beautiful voice. As we paid we found she was seranading her grandson who was sitting next to the counter where the register is located. When we explained that we were from out of town and had driven all the way here to have one of her burgers, Miss Emma Mae explained that the young man sitting behind us was her grandson and that they had just come back from Florida where they had attended his graduation from college and where she had treated him with a trip to Disney World. We congratulated him and he thanked us. A most pleasant and courteous young man.

But, we must leave all of this and search for new adventures. I am typing this at 6AM and will begin breakfast while Barbara sleeps. If all goes well we will be on the road around 8 or 9 AM central time and I will have posted this by logging in on the office phone line. We are very grateful for having traveled far enough west to be in the Central Time Zone because we gained back that hour lost when the country insanely and blindly switched to Daylight Savings Time, a madness we have never subscribed to. Enough rambling. It is time to prepare the Mothership for another flight into unknown adventures as we travel north from Red Bay towards St. Louis, Missouri.

Tuesday, July 19, 2005

Fast Food Internet

We are in the local Mcdonalds reading our email and updating the blog. As we walked in to do our internet business we intended to order a couple of decaf coffees to sip on. On walking in we spotted a couple that was on the tour with us yesterday and ended up having an hour long conversation with them. They gave us some good tips on places to go in South Dakota and Wyoming. They also gave us some good tips on campgrounds in that area. We talked about a lot of subjects but I only have time for this short update right now. I will go offline when we get back in the camper and will add more in a future update. That's if for now. We hope to be finished and out of here today. We have seen everything to be seen in the Red Bay area and are ready to move on.

Monday, July 18, 2005

Factory Tour

The mechanics worked another full day on The Mothership and would have finished except that a part did not arrive in time. So, one more night here at the Tiffin Campground with an expected completion of work in the morning. The main slide out is semi assembled, quite liveable, but we cannot run it out. That is no problem at all and we are happy to be back in our home on wheels.

While The Mothership was being worked on we took advantage of the time and took the factory assembly line tour. It was conducted by a very nice gentleman named "Red" with a great sense of humor. The guy was amazing. His knowledge was encyclopedic and he had to be in his 80's. He told us he had open heart surgery a couple of months ago and was back at work conducting tours a month later. It was pretty warm and it was all we could do to keep up with "Red."

Here are a few photos we took on the tour. We got to see the assembly from the raw chassis to the finished motorhomes. Tiffen uses some pretty sophisticated materials and techniques but very little is automated so it is skilled handwork. Most of the tour participants were owners and agreed that a skilled craftsman produced a better product, when motivated, than a robot assembly line. Enjoy the photos.





Red Bay



Today is July 17, 2005. We plan on having lunch at the most popular local restaurant, Oh!Bryans. It is always packed so we are going to have lunch there today. After that we plan on doing some photography to capture some of the highlights of Red Bay.

There is not much to do in Red Bay. There seem to be few historical sites or geological features of interest. Or, more likely, we have not discovered them yet. The streets are all named after numbers. Fourth St. is the main street and is crossed by numbered streets. I am not sure what this means but small towns usually have streets named after local events or personalities. We did drive around a bit and saw some things we would like to photograph today. One, in particular, is a house with the front yard full of statues of various kinds.



There is wireless internet available at the local Mcdonalds restaurant. So, we have been making trips there to download email since the campground office is not open on the weekends. They have a phone line for campers to use in the campground office. Yesterday, while downloading email we parked next to a really nice Harley Davidson motorcycle. This was not the usual chopper type but looked more like a Honda Gold Wing. A comfortable looking cruiser. A couple came out strapping on their helmets and we knew that the bike belonged to them. Barbara rolled down her window and said, "We really like your bike." The couple turned out to be very friendly and we had a long conversation with them. They even invited us to park our camper in their yard which they said was a large house with big a big paved parking area. She said she was a school teacher and told us, "I don't dress like this except on the weekends." She was referring to her leather jacket and blue jeans. Compared to a lot of bikers they were pretty conservative. They told us that they were going to the big Bike gathering in Sturgis, South Dakota at the end of the month. They asked where our motorhome was parked and told us they knew we were in a motorhome because of the tow bars on our car. It turns out they own a motorhome too and trailer their motorcycle to various locations and then use it to explore.

We met a lady yesterday here in the campground who told us that her husband is a retired nuclear engineer. They are here in a fifth wheel trailer waiting on their new Q40 Allegro Bus. I mention her because of a very interesting thing she told me. They have a full theatre organ in their trailer. Her husband plays it. They instructed the factory to build their new 40 foot bus without a sleeper couch to accomodate the theatre organ. I won't go into the details but will say that she told us their entire life story. This seems to happen to us more and more. It is significant enough that both Barbara and I have noticed that in the last two or three months people have been telling us every detail about their lives. Is it the fact that we have aged to the point that we appear more grandfatherly and grandmotherly? Is it the fact that we are retired and are subliminal signals that we have time to listen?

We have been here four days and we are getting itchy to travel. We are here for a reason though and are going to stay to take full advantage of being at the factory. I have a couple of more things that have been added to the list to be done. Slight modifications to make our home on wheels more functional for us. I would like to have two of our electrical outlets added to the inverter that converts DC to AC to allow us to run the laptop and cell phone chargers without having to turn on the generator when we are stopped without a shore power connection.

We are quite happy with this motorhome. If you ever travel this way you will understand why people love it so much. We have talked a lot with people who are "full timers" meaning that they do not own a house and live completely in their motorhomes. Barbara and I have discussed that and luckily we both agree that even though we love being on the road for months at a time we still need our home base to go back to. We consider ourselves lucky that we can both own a home and a beautiful motorhome like this one. Many of the "full timers" sold their homes and used the proceeds to buy a super motorhome. They are also pretty involved in campground activities and live in one location for a large part of the year. We are not particularly interested in group activies such as line dancing and shuffleboard prefering instead to move about exploring different areas.

Friday, July 15, 2005

Mothership Service

Click on the small thumbnail at the left for a panoramic view of the service area. This was taken from just in front of our RV while it was being worked on. This facility is only a couple of weeks old.


We arose early, fixed breakfast and dressed to be ready for the service call. Sure enough, a little after 8 am central time, a polite young man showed up and asked us to report to service bay 29 as soon as possible even offering to drive our coach over to the service area.

The service facility is impressive with about 40 service bays. Everyone is very nice and as soon as we pulled into Bay 29 the young man met us and reviewed our list of service requests. At the same time they plugged our main electricity in and we remain in the coach with all services such as AC and lights running. So far we are very impressed with the enthusiasm and skill of the workers here. We now understand why people travel here to have work done on their coaches. If we are in this area again and need maintenance done we will surely call on the Tiffin folks to do it for us.






The only difficult repair is the main slideout. It had started binding on us as it extended so we added it to the list of things to be done. After a few attempts at adjustment they guys said that we would have to bring it back on Monday for more work.


They are going to have to actually remove the slide out box and repair the rollers. These guys are the experts so we will stay in Red Bay for the weekend and be back in the service area on Monday first thing. We could never get this kind of expertise on this particular coach without coming to the factory.

Thursday, July 14, 2005

Mothership Land


The rhythm of the road is kicking in. We left Atlanta and headed west on Interstate 20 towards Birmingham. First stop was a Flying J Truck Stop for refuleling. These stops are great. Even though setup for truckers they have a set of pumps for cars and RVs. We noticedd that the price of gas is a bit cheaper there than other locations. For me, their wireless internet access is frosting on the cake. This Flying J was just across the Alabama border traveling from Atlanta towards Birmingham.

I-20 was our path through the Taledega National Forest. A paved trail through very dense forest growth. A thousand Bigfoots, (Bigfeet?), could live in there and no one would ever see them. Thank goodness none of them ran across the road in front of us.

Passing through Birmingham we could see the industrial heritage of this city. We could see huge plants that must have been for steelmaking or fabrication. The names of the surrounding towns reflected the history of the area. Names like Bessemer and Carbon Hill.

Just west of Birmingham we turned north and started our final leg towards Red Bay, the birthplace of The Mothership. The countryside is very beautiful in this area with green rolling hills. Turning for final approach to Red Bay we changed to a small county road and arrived in Red Bay about 3pm Central Time just as the afternoon thunderstorms began. Bob was in the campground office checking in when a bolt of lightning hit nearby. Everyone in the office gasped and almost dove for cover. It was like a direct hit from heavy artillery. Barbara who was waiting in the Mothership said she almost had a heart attack it was so loud.

We were assigned a campsite and a service number and settled in for the night. Full hookups and 50 amp power. My kind of place. Best of all it is only $10 a night. The down side is that there is no internet available. There is a phone line in the office and we may take advantage of that in the morning. We turned in early expecting to be called early for service. Conversations with people around us revealed that the work load is light this time of year and we should expect to be called right away.

Wednesday, July 13, 2005

Storms and Traffic


What started out as a routine travel day ended a bit stressfully. After a normal departure and smooth traveling we approached Atlanta from the south only to encounter strong thunderstorms and rain. The rain can only be described as torrential. We decided that rather than fight the rain we should settle in for the night. This was about 4:30 pm. We saw a campground sign on the interstate and decided to go for it. Following the sparse directions on the signs we ended up on a back road that was not even paved where we asked a guy if there was a campground in the area. He said, "No." We asked if the road was passible and he said, "Yes, the section that is unpaved is very short and it leads to a shopping mall." He was right but once we got to the mall we really got turned around and it took us a while to get back to the interstate.

As we approached Atlanta the traffic got heavier and heavier. Since we were approaching the big city from the south we took the beltway around to the west and ran into the worst traffic gridlock we have ever seen. We crawled for an hour or so only to arrive at our exit to find it was blocked off due to an accident. Fortunately the GPS software was able to reroute us to I-20 west but once there we started checking for campgrounds only to find hardly any on that side of Atlanta. We pulled into a parking lot and did a broader search and found a nice campground up at Marietta, Ga. The mapping software routed us to it and showed it was only 13.2 miles away. We started out for it while calling on the cell phone to hold a campsite. By now it was late in the day for us, around 7 pm and they had one site left which they held for us. This campground is nice because it has free wireless internet.

The down side is that things are a bit soggy after all the rain. Our car looks like it is the color of red clay since that covers everything in this part of the country. Click here for the web site of the campground. I took some photos of the gridlock traffic with my cell phone. I'll add them to the post later. Anyway, we are settled in for the night and hope to make Red Bay, Al tomorrow. 250 miles to go.

Bye Bye Florida



FINALLY crossed the Florida/Georgia state line. We are at a refueling stop at a Flying J Truck Stop. It is a cool place to stop because they have high speed wireless internet. We stopped for lunch after refueling and hope to get past the Atlanta Metro Area today. That's it for now from the Flying J.

Rhythm of the Road

The first day always seems to be the hardest. Getting an RV on the road is like getting a ship underway. The crew is rusty and it takes a while to get things in the right place and to get in synch with the rhythm of travel. When on the road each day has a definite cadence. Today will be better and tomorrow even better as far as that goes.

We both slept extremely well last night. I think it is something about breaking that connection to routine duties and patterns at home. On the road each day is different and holds new adventures. We enjoy seeing new sights and meeting new people.

Today we hope to get past Atlanta and have that major metropolitan area behind us. Neither of us enjoys the congestion and traffic so it will feel good to take that south bypass and the big turn to the west.

Tuesday, July 12, 2005

The Mothership Has Landed


It sure takes a long time to get out of Florida. We passed Orlando and got into the rolling hills of the Clermont area and started seeing dark clouds and lightning ahead. Pulled into a rest stop on I-75 and studied our maps and GPS display and decided it was time to begin looking for a place to park for the night. We passed a KOA Campground in Ocala, Fl and started looking for signs on the Interstate indicating "Camping." Here in Ocala we saw one for the Ocala RV Ranch and that is where we are for the night. It is nice with good paved roads and 50 amp hookups. So, here we are spending the first night on the road still in Florida. Oh well, it is a long state and we got a late start. It has been a while since we have been on the road so it took us a lot longer than we had planned to round up all of those little last minute items like CDs, keys, glasses, medicines, etc. So, here we are at 5:46 pm in a really nice place with wireless internet, all hooked up for the night and a nice gentle rain is making those sleepy sounds on the roof. What a great way to travel and what a great life. I am sure the rest of the trips will hold many adventures but for now this is quite nice and pleasant. Click here for the campground web site.


Here is a screenshot of the GPS display after we parked.

Lunch Break


We are at the Fort Drum rest area on the Florida Turnpike taking a break for a sandwich. Got a late start this morning. More about that later. Feels good to be "On the Road Again."

Final Preparations

It is 6:30 AM and I am starting to shut down computers and other systems such as our Tivos. I have two doors to shutter but one of them must be left until the last minute. Today is the day. Some last minute packing to be done and then we are off for our adventure. I am really excited about getting started after one delay due to Hurricane Dennis. Of course, we must keep an eye on Tropical Storm Emily that is cranking up out there and following a similar path to Dennis. If she follows her big brother up towards Alabama we will just bail out and head on north. Gotta go. Things to do. See you on the road.

Monday, July 11, 2005

Departure Update

We will be leaving tomorrow. Dennis has been downgraded to a tropical depression and is moving out of northern Alabama, our first destination.

A new storm is brewing down in the Carribean and will likely be somewhere near the US by this coming weekend. That gives us a window of departure that we are going to take advantage of by leaving tomorrow.

We will have our laptop and satellite tv while on the road and will be watching the new storm so that we can stay out of its way. The new one will be called Emily.

I am anxious to turn this back into a travel Blog instead of a weather Blog.

Here is an interesting radar loop of Dennis making land fall. Click here to view it.

The Wunderground site is my favorite site for tracking storms. Clikc here for the latest info on the new storm brewing in the Carribean as well as Dennis.

Stay tuned for more updates.

Sunday, July 10, 2005

Calmer Weather

The weather here in West Palm Beach has calmed down to more of a normal state. We are worried about my uncle Bill who lives in Fort Walton Beach. None of us have heard from him yet. We do know that he is equipped with one of those big automatic generators that turns on when the power goes out.

As far as our trip goes, we will wait one more day. We plan on calling the RV plant up in Red Bay, Al to determine the extent of their damages. The forecast for that area calls for possible tornadoes and very heavy rains. No need to drive into an area until they have fully recovered. We figure it will take us 2 - 3 days to get there so if we leave early on Tuesday morning it should all work out about right. That will also give us time to double check our provisioning and packing. Stay tuned. We will be underway soon.

A Second Power Outage

We had another power outage during the night when another spiral band from Dennis came through. I didn't get to my main computer in time to shut it down but Barbara's was still running on the battery in the UPS so I shut it down more gracefully. The rain and wind woke me up but I don't remember the time. I am guessing it was around 2am though which would coincide with this special weather statement that came in while we were sleeping.
At 2 am EDT...Doppler radar indicated bands of heavy showers
affecting Palm Beach County. The activity was most concentrated
across northern and eastern sections of the County. The heaviest
showers will affect areas between Royal Palm Beach and caloosa.
Gusty winds to 50 mph and torrential rainfall will accompany the
heavier showers across these areas. Mainly light showers will affect
the coast...but even these light showers could contain gusty winds
to 40 mph.

Saturday, July 09, 2005

Rain Bands


Here's a shot of the rain and wind as one of the feeder bands swept through the West Palm Beach area.

Click Here for Overall Route Map.