09 December 2010

Postcard from Arizona-2

Benson, AZ

We stayed a week at the KOA in Benson, AZ. It was a good stop and we enjoyed the rural setting including the yowling coyotes. We were surrounded by mountains (Dragoons et al) with desert brush & cactus everywhere outside the park. Sunsets were spectacular and, thanks to getting rousted by the dogs at 7:30 every day, we are able to see the sunrise. I think I prefer watching the sun set to watching it rise before morning coffee! They even had a Thanksgiving dinner for the guests which was pretty cool.

Part of the display area at Davis-Monthan in Tucson, AZ
We made it to Davis-Monthan AFB for a visit with Dan & Betty to see their new 2011 Montana. Looks to be substantially the same as ours, so we don't have to be envious of a newer model! :) Montana works small changes into production throughout a model year, but outside shape changes or major changes to the interior seem to be reserved for a new model year (July? August?). While there we wandered thru a static display at the base, some of which are active aircraft at the base, then lunch before heading back to rescue the dogs.

We've known about the local SKP park in Benson but had never been there. It's not owned by Escapees RV Club, but it is affiliated hence the phonetically similar name. RVing friends we'd met in Santa Fe were really enthused about SKP Saguaro and had gotten on the 'hot list' to lease a site (currently an 8 year wait). So we decided to drive over and take a look. Wow! What a place! Huge sites on the order of 2,500 +/- sq ft; wide, paved roads; 50A/30A power with full hookup; giant club house with activities scheduled all day. Something for everyone it seemed.

Our assigned site at SKP Saguaro in Benson, AZ
Lease holder sites are available to rent by visitors when the lease holder is absent. While they don't receive income from the rental, they do get credit against their annual fees so there's incentive. The park is very popular with Escapees members and this is the busiest time of year here, so I never expected to find a place for the remaining 6-weeks we'll be in Arizona. But I asked anyway and- tah-dah! -they had room for us. May have to move at some point if the lease holder returns unexpectedly, but I believe we're covered one way or another till it's time for my mid-January appt. So we hitched up on Saturday AM, trundled across town and checked in at SKP Saguaro. We ended up in a site which has a casita (not available for use by a renter). But the site has a large *level* pad and the it's landscaped. Pretty nice digs.

And check the size of the streets and lots. Even I finally managed to get parked here.

To cap it all off we learned that Mike & Susan, the folks who told us about SKP Saguaro while we were in Santa Fe, have decided to leave Seattle and are headed to Benson. How cool is that?!

23 November 2010

Postcard from Arizona

We're finally out of Santa Fe! You'd almost think we didn't want to leave. Which is close. But temps were dropping and we even had some snow. Clearly we'd over-stayed our welcome and it was time to move on.

Plus the solar power system being installed at Santa Fe Skies RV Park is in the early construction phase which means they're moving dirt. And moving dirt means dust. Yuk! Everything would get a fine layer in a matter of a few hours. We are actually very excited that a small RV park would tackle the largest private photovoltaic installation in the state. Way to go guys! Maybe when we return in April to check on the house they'll have some of the 1,100+ panels installed and working.

Las Cruces, NM

We drove from Santa Fe to Las Cruces for the first stop. Nearly 300 miles which is over our informal limit. Unfortunately, unless you want to stop in ABQ- only 50 miles away- there's nowhere to stop except Socorro and they were rebuilding their water system.

The Las Cruces KOA is a nice park. Yeah, it's dusty from the gravel base, but the view is spectacular and the park is very well maintained. In fact the were in the midst of replacing the decking around the pool while we were there.

I'd been haunting the propane crossover valve/empty tank gauge since Santa Fe. One tank had stopped delivering propane even though it was nearly full. And of course it had to happen on a cold nite when the furnace was cycling a lot. I went to Ferrell Gas before leaving Santa Fe to see about repairing or replacing the tank. One of the staff said the tank was probably fine and that I just needed to change my habits. Seems there's an additional valve inside the Overfill Protection Device which will cause flow to stop if the main valve is opened too quickly. Sounded like BS to me, but what the hell... I'll give it a try. I reinstalled the tank and opened the tank as I always do. Sure enough, the flow stopped and the crossover valve indicated the tank was empty. So I closed the valve, removed the hose then re-installed it. This time I very slowly bled the valve open. Then for 2 days I checked to see if crossover valve still indicated it hadn't switched tanks. So there we were in Las Cruces and... I'll be damned: it's still OK! He was right on the money. So far the tank has been operating just fine and hasn't switched unnecessarily. So here's Lesson #3,417:

Thou shalt always open the valve on a re-filled tank of propane very slowly.  

Thank you Ferrell Gas of Santa Fe!

While in Las Cruces we made an emergency trip to Starbucks for coffee beans. Don't want to run low else the Admiral gets nasty in the morning!

Mesilla, AZ

We also took a short drive to Mesilla. It's a small town adjacent to Las Cruces that has had the foresight to preserve it's old plaza area. We spent a little time wandering the area and shops and enjoyed the change of pace from busy traveller to casual tourist. Unfortunately we couldn't try the usual touristy things like fudge and ice cream (yeah, it was that warm!) but we still managed to have a good time not eating.

Loved the look of this small walled compound. Great colors and interesting xeriscape plantings. You see a lot of low water-need plantings in the southwest.

One mishap... a protective filter attached to my favorite Canon lens went for a walk and crashed on the sidewalk. Bummer. Thankfully there was not other damage.

Lordsburg, NM

We were faced with another 300-miler going from Las Cruces to the Tucson area, so this time we broke it up with a midway-stop in Lordsburg. Not much here except a decent restaurant. We didn't eat at Kranberry's this trip, but it's a worthwhile eating place if you pass Lordsburg at mealtime. And Kranberry's has a fair sized parking lot in the back so a motorhome or smaller trailer could make a food stop here before moving on. I believe you would have to approach it from the back street.

The Lordsburg KOA reminded me of Van Horn, TX in a way, but without the corrals, rodeo ring and great on-site restaurant. Not a garden spot but the park is fine and we were well off I-10 so it was quiet.

Benson, AZ 

Fred the Gnome in thermal distress!
We ended up in Benson even though I'd hoped to stop at Beaudry RV Resort in Tucson. We knew Beaudry RV sales had gone bankrupt (the Montana dealership is now with Orangewood RV of Phoenix which gives them a presence in Tucson), but since the phone still worked at the resort I thought the park might still be operating. After 8 or more calls I finally gave up (the park is indeed kaput). Then I tried South Forty RV Park which didn't want dogs larger than 20# (maybe they prefer small dogs that bite instead of big dogs that lick?), so that was out. Then several reads on various web sites left me with more questions than answers. So I gave up and opted for KOA again. The Benson KOA isn't a high end park by any stretch (though you wouldn't know it from the price), but the scenery is wonderful, it's a long way from I-10, and since we'd been here before, we knew what to expect. Got a little chiily while we were there. A little frost on the pumpkin... and on Fred the Gnome.

In the roughly 1 year since we were last here, the park seems to have become busier. We pulled in to find perhaps 15 rigs already parked. Last time we were here there was more than one nite when ours was the only rig here (not counting the 10 or more permanent residents at the back of the park). After we arrived we learned the park is providing dinner on Thanksgiving Day (as well as another planned on Christmas). Pretty nice for travelers that are probably not expecting anything!

High Desert Mkt & Deli
Bisbee, AZ

We took a side trip to Bisbee, AZ just to see what it was about. The old town was a great place to explore and we managed to find a primo lunch stop. Hi Desert Market & Cafe has a deli to die for! The food was excellent and compared to Santa Fe it was inexpensive. Well... it's inexpensive if you stay away from dessert! Unfortunately it was more temptation than we could bare so we split a piece of carrot cake. Which was no hardship since each slice is about double the size of anything I've been served before. And their carrot cake recipe adds some apple which was excellent! It's only 40 miles from Benson, so if you're in the area do yourself a favor and head over here for lunch or dinner.

Lavender Pit in Bisbee, AZ
I'd assumed Bisbee was yet another gold or silver mining town. I was only 1/2 right. It's a mining town alright, but it's copper that they were after while gold, silver and turquoise (an oxide of copper) were byproducts from of copper mining. A large open pit mine (Lavender Pit, named after the person who conceived the project) is visible from the side of AZ-80 and there's a pull-off so you can see down into the mine. Open pit mines were tried first in Utah in an attempt to make low-grade ore profitable and it worked here as well. The name "Lavender" has nothing to do with color. The pit is named after Harrison Lavender who was a VP for Phelps Dodge and was in charge of operations when they started mining, You can get a tour of an open pit mine ( Copper Queen Mine) if you're inclined, but the Lavender Pit has been closed since 1974 (to the extent that an open 900 foot deep pit can be called "closed"!).

F-100... I passed these being assembled daily on my first job
Davis-Monthan AFB, Tucson, AZ

We had hoped to connect with internet acquaintances from Alaska who were staying in the Family Camping facility at Davis-Monthan AFB in Tucson. The base is right beside the Pima Air & Space Museum which we wanted to see, so access would have been very easy. Unfortunately (thanks to the extra problems we encountered at the house) we weren't able to arrive in time to be brought onto the base for a couple nites as their guests. And since Benson is about 40 miles from Tucson it makes the logistics impossible to get between the Pima museum and Benson to be able to get the dogs out for a walk mid-way thru the visit (Pima has in/out gate privileges). So unless we find another RV park nearby, we'll have to save the air museum for another trip.

At least we were able to meet and visit with Dan and Betty for awhile and see their new (2-days old!) 2011 Montana 3400RL. We thought it was gorgeous but then we should since it seemed to be identical to our own 2010-3400RL which we bought last March. They're on their way to Phoenix next and we'll stay in Benson a little longer since the weather is decent and we want to see more of the area.

SKP Saguaro Co-op

One of our stops here will be at the SKP Saquaro park. This co-op park is affiliated with Escapees RV Club and we want to see what their facility is like. Friends Mike & Susan who we met in Santa Fe are on the waiting list for a long term lease on an available site so we want to see what grabbed them. From the web site it appears the sites are huge... on the order of 2,000 sq. ft. or more.

More coming...

04 November 2010

Postcard from New Mexico

7 August - 3 November 2010
(Santa Fe, NM)

We had an easy drive back to Santa Fe. Unlike the trip North, it's pretty much all down hill getting to Raton, NM. That probably made the truck happier, but it's a real test for trailer and engine brakes. So it was nice to get back to level land again. We pulled into Santa Fe Skies RV Park and were given the space adjacent to where we were before we left for Canada. Great site and it's easy to get into.

Once we were settled in we took a look at the house and confirmed that things are what folks said they are... a mess. There was definitely an electrical problem, so I went back to look at the power drop from PNM (our utility supplier). I couldn't see anything obvious but I did see that the roof in the shop had leaked and the shop smelled like mold. It was really bad!

I called Johnny Bowles who came over. Within 15 minutes he told us that we had no power inside the house cuz we had no power coming from PNM. He gave me a number to call at PNM and said if we still needed him after they got things fixed to call him back. PNM took a couple days, but they repaired what proved to be a broken line. They first had to trim a tree at the rear of the property. Our tree had grown up thru the wires and a wire was rubbing against a branch. The branch won and the wire broke... the wire was literally worn thru. Not just the insulation, but the metal as well.

After that was fixed we got Johnny back to the house and after 2 days of nasty trouble shooting (I've come to hate old adobe houses!) he had us up and running. Seems we had a couple shorts in buried wires that weren't shorted when we left town. Odd, but the problem is fix and the previously shorted wires were re-routed in conduit over the roof. Plus we had him sort out what had become a mess in the conduit after the new roof was installed on the main house in 2006.

The blackened area is the mold
The shop was not so easy. We had our favorite builder (Daniel Tellez) take a look and he cut a hole in the ceiling to confirm that there was mold damage. Once more wallboard on the ceiling was cut away I could see what was causing the problem. It turned out to be coming from a poorly sealed area at the canale (the troughs that allow the roof to drain). The roofer who installed the foam roof said it was a bunch of holes caused by bees and sent a bill for repairs. Some warranty, but both the warranty and the leaks are about what I've been told to expect. Welcome to the real world, Bruce!

Same area after remediation
We got an well known mold repair company (Paul Davis Inc., a Canadian company) to clean up the mold. Took several days, but when they were done it looked like new wood.

Then Daniel took over and installed new insulation & wallboard in the damaged areas, painted the walls and installed a new TPO roof. The material is white and seems nearly bullet proof so I have high hopes. We'll see.

The north wall; south wall had even more
Not only is the odor from the mold gone, the shop looks like new again. Especially after new epoxy paint was applied to the floor. Plus Daniel did some repairs to the outside stucco which made everything look right again. Almost looks good enough to live in! :) (We're not living in the house... we prefer the Montana.) With more time we would have been able to get the house on the market, but we're running into the limit of days we're permitted to be in the state without reverting to NM residency.

As I was saying goodbye to Daniel in the car port, he casually asked "Do you want me to do anything about these posts?" Turns out the 10" diameter posts which support the car port were hollow. Yikes! Because of a combination of building errors (6" beam on top of a 4" corbel on top of a 10" post), water could collect on the top of the posts and rot started in the end-grain. It had been going on for years and no one could see it. It was only because Daniel knew what could happen with that combination that we were saved from having the carport collapse on the car while we were gone. So Daniel replaced the posts (square 6" this time) and the corbels (also 6") plus he repaired the posts and corbels of the front portal (the 'porch' at the front door). Thank you Daniel for once again saving our butts!

While still in Santa Fe, they had their annual Balloon Fiesta in Albuquerque. We'd planned on visiting one night, but as often happens they had excessive winds and had to cancel the evening's 'balloon glow' or 'glow-deo'. But at least we got to see some of the crowd. Santa Fe Skies gets overflow from Albuquerque and the park was full every night starting a week ahead and continuing till the week after Balloon Fiesta. They have 98 sites and one night they had 105 guests. It was chaos. Orderly chaos if there is such a thing, but chaos. Then one night the temps dropped to freezing and within 3 days they were all gone. Poof! Now we're seeing mostly Canadians heading south.

We'll leave for Arizona soon. We have an invite to join a USAF retiree at Davis-Monthan AFB (near Tucson, AZ) for a couple days and we'd like to take him up on the offer. As I understand it, Davis-Monthan is where the USAF 'bone yard' is located. I've been hearing about it for decades (as early as 1957 when I was a student at Northrop Aero Institute in Inglewood, CA) so I'd love to have a look-see.

Our truck will be serviced tomorrow and the car shortly thereafter; we've seen doctors and dentists while here; gotten prescriptions refilled; we'll get hair cuts tomorrow; and we're pretty much ready to head West. That's assuming we can still figure out how to connect to the truck!

08 August 2010

Postcard from Colorado

5-7 August 2010

Today was a l-o-n-g drive. It took us from Cheyenne, WY through Denver, which is never a good thing even  before the commute, and then south. But we plowed thru all the I-25 landmarks as we headed south of Pueblo to Colorado City. Once again Mr. Garmin had his head buried where the sun don't shine, but we eventually got it sorted and arrived at the KOA which is on the east side of I-25, not the west, thank you very much.

Not much here so a 2-niter might seem a waste. But we were tired after the ugly drive and we were stalling because of what was waiting for us in Santa Fe. But we did take advantage of the extra day and do some sight seeing around the spread-out town and West into the hills along CO-165. Nice drive. We even stopped at "the castle" which might have been fun if we didn't have to listen to the nut case that was the owner/builder. He spouted off in a constant diatribe about any axe he had to grind. But it's his place and we didn't have to be there. And the castle is a huge project for one person.

The scenery along CO-165 was great with some open meadow areas used for cattle. This is looking back toward Colorado City with the Great Plains beyond. For whatever reason I have a hard time realizing that Colorado (and New Mexico for that matter) border the plains. There's a similar view from Las Vegas, NM.

The local restaurant was fine and not expensive. Just don't order anything with green chile expecting it to be green because it's red. But that's their recipe and they're stickin' to it. Since I had my gall bladder removed in 2002 I've become less and less tolerant of spicey food and at this point I've given up. So I kept to run-of-the-mill diner food and was very happy with dinner.

05 August 2010

Postcard from Wyoming

3-5 August 2010
(Cheyenne, WY)

We had an easy though boring drive to Cheyenne, WY via the Interstate. The KOA in Cheyenne is a little east of town and looks very isolated. Needs some trees to break up the wind but fortunately wind was not an issue while we were there. One quick look around you is all it takes to recall that Cheyenne borders the Great Plains.

We stopped for 2 nites so we could have a chance to look around and get some rest before the next leg thru Colorado. I tried to like Cheyenne, but driving in the town was a pain in the butt. People drive like they're in LA except they aren't any good at it! Of course I need to remind myself that I'm an old fart now, so maybe that's the issue. My reaction to Cheyenne was immensely dissimilar from what I've felt in any other Wyoming town, even Casper which I've always thought of as an oil town. Of course it is on the Interstate, so maybe that has something to do with it.

Cheyenne had had a competition among local artists that required decorating an 8 foot tall boot. All are originals and some really interesting creations. The one Celia is leaning against used painted images while the one with the diamonds has recorded the names and dates of service of the former governors on Wyoming. And I doubt anyone is going to steal these multi-hundred pound behemoths!

We went down to the train depot which has been restored. We'd heard about the decorated 8' tall boots painted by guest artists so we had to have a look. They were fun and we got a few pictures plus I got a T-shirt at the depot. Then we stuck our heads into The Wrangler- a Western wear and boot shop. Fun to look but we're max'ed out on weight so there's no sense breaking out a credit card!

The KOA is located very near a truck stop, so diesel is no sweat. The trouble with truck stops, though, is that they carry cheap DVDs. So I had to have a look and once more I carried away a gem... along with another 2 that were a waste of $$$ and never made it out of Wyoming.

Off to South Colorado tomorrow.

03 August 2010

Postcard from Nebraska

31 July - 2 August 2010
(Gretna, NE)

We left Clear L and had a long drive to the KOA in W Omaha (Gretna), NE. It's an old KOA and we ended up under a beautiful old oak tree with about a 15% grade where we had to pull out. I'm serious as a heart attack: 15%. Yikes! Parking the rig wasn't bad as the site was level where the trailer sat. But at the point the truck was pointed down the exit path it was s-t-e-e-p. So when it came time to hitch up it was a case of backing the truck up under the overhang and hope I snagged the king pin.

We did the usual shopping thing here plus we managed to find a Starbucks. We'd been feeling very deprived so we needed a fix and some more Verona beans. Diesel was easy when that chore rolled around.

I managed to get connected without a problem. The B&W hitch articulates enough that I was able to connect with only a lot of worry and no real problem. Off we went to N. Platte.

2-3 August 2010
(N Platte, NE)

We stopped at Holiday RV Park in N Platte, our second stay here. It was a one-niter and, if you recall our previous whine, we definitely ate at home that nite!

The next day we were off to Cheyenne, WY.

31 July 2010

Postcard from Iowa

30-31 July 2010
(Clear Lake, IA)

Flood control a little west of La Crosse
We left Hixton, WI with threatening cloud cover and it only got worse. Sometime after La Crosse the heavens opened up and the rig got a bath. Would have been fine if it weren't that the water hitting it was dirty: we were in the midst of some serious construction work.

Our stop this day was at Cedar Lake, IA for a one-niter. We stayed at Oakwood RV Park which had very easy pull thru sites. We're close to 60' when the trailer is connected, so if we didn't have to go after diesel I could have stayed connected for the nite. It was $28/nite with the cash discount, otherwise it was $30/nite. Not bad. For whatever reason, Celia was happy to be gone from here... ???

One problem. The access road looks like a war zone. The big rigs have really torn it up. When we tried to find the park, however, got a little screwed up because Mr. Garmin's directions were a little screwed up. We ended up arriving from the wrong direction which turned out to be the best direction... we missed all the pot holes. Well... until I drove out to fuel-up!

Tomorrow we're off to Nebraska.

30 July 2010

Postcard from Wisconsin

26-27 July 2010
(Chain o' Lakes, WI)

Great pizza!
Our stop at Chain o' Lakes KOA was a one-niter. It's all dirt/sand, but is so much nicer than our stay at Manistique we didn't whine. The surroundings are a beautiful rustic approach that works very well in this very woodsy area. Btw, this is the first KOA we've found that recycles!

The dogs had a great time walking new territory which included access to one of the lakes in the chain (28 lakes in the chain I think?). We hiked down to the launch ramp but our timing was terrible as we managed to become dinner for the mosquitoes. But it's a beautiful campground with great trees (conifers) and lots of signs reminding people to drive slowly to keep down the dust. By and large it seems to work as most followed the instructions.

We got into Eagle River (the nearby town) and had dinner at Butch's Pizza. Fantastic! If you stop in Eagle R you really need to think about this place for lunch or dinner. Great pizza!

We tanked up and were on our way to Alma Center/Hixton KOA the next morning.

27-30 July 2010

Hixton/Alma Center, WI KOA.
Hixton KOA was a one-nighter so we could rest a bit and shop for a few things. The KOA is right between the 2 towns... about 3 miles either direction. But if you want more than what you would expect at a 7-11, then you have to plan on 15-20 miles to Black River Falls.

This KOA is amazing. The grounds are immaculate. I had the feeling of staying in the front yard of a mansion. There were expansive lawns, trimmed shrubbery, everything well cared for. Loved it, and enjoyed touring the immediate area. Went to Bruce's Mound and left wondering: what the hell is a mound!? There were other "mounds" in the area, whatever they are. My guess is they are small hills, but... ??? If you know, please share.

This is an Amish area and we saw several of their farms. The coolest was one with wheat (or some grains) stacked in sheaves. And we happened to see the occasional horse draw wagon. I resisted the urge to get out the camera since the Admiral threatened to break it over my head if I didn't respect their privacy. Convincing argument!

We were up bright and early on the 29th, hitched up, disconnected water and sewer, and pulled out. Ummm, yeah. Well... we (I!) forgot to disconnect the power cable. This cord is over 1" in diameter and you would think I could remember something that big. But no... I pulled out without a clue.

We stopped at a rest stop near a set of locks around La Crosse, WI. After a break I was walking back to the rig and saw the yellow power plug still plugged into the rear connector. And there was no cable in sight. Oh crap! I figured it was a goner. And I feared we would have a sizable repair bill fixing their power pylon. But that wasn't case: the Admiral called the park and learned the pylon was fine. The only problem was the wires had been pulled out of the connector without breaking anything. So instead of heading to a Camping World we headed back to Hixton and stayed another night at the KOA so I could repair the cable (less than 5 minutes work).

So after a 3rd night at this wonderful park we really did manage our escape!

26 July 2010

Postcard from Michigan

Mare catchup... almost there!

25-26 July 2010

Maybe it was the fact we had to go home and didn't want to, but the Manistique KOA on the upper peninsula was probably the worst stop we've made so far. It's part of a motel and the restroom facilities for campers are inside. The Admiral says they were a disaster, so I avoided going near. Our 30-A campsite was so-so after adding a leveling board, but the breaker was defective and tripped several times even though we limited our electrical usage to less than 30-A. Plus our rig was probably a little bigger than expected in the site so getting out was a white knuckle affair. We made it after a couple tries... about 1/4" to spare getting past the pylon. Keep in mind I'm new at this, so maybe it was just me.

Couldn't wait to get going to Eagle River, WI in the morning!

25 July 2010

Postcard from Ontario

12-15 July 2010
(Thunder Bay, ON)

We made it to the border as early as I could manage (did I mention we're really, really slow to get going?!) and went thru the border crossing without a hitch. Remember the precaution of getting an International Health Certificate for the dogs? It made us feel prepared, but the border official was uninterested. He asked if we had proof of rabies vaccinations for both dogs (it's listed on the form), but he didn't even want to see it... just wanted to make sure we had it in case we were asked for it. That was probably $60 per dog that was wasted for the physical exam and form, but we followed the instructions on their site and that's what I understood they wanted. Go figure.

Remember our preparations the night before? where we threw out all the remaining produce and meat? That was the right thing to do. When we entered Canada the only thing they asked about was potatoes, but in talking to others apparently the items of greatest concern change with the wind. So getting rid of it was probably OK. And it left us stocked with fresh-everything when we finally headed north out of Thunder Bay.

We again stayed at a KOA and the one at Thunder Bay is a great choice. It was big enough that it made it great for walking the dogs (they get bored with the same old walk) and there was a lot of up/down so the exercise was good for us too. The best part was there was a dog run the was big. The loved it and ran their butts off each nite.

We were introduced to Canadian TV programming and, since we seldom watch regular US programming anymore, it was something of a treat. Among other niceties was a new show called Doyle's Republic and we got hooked. We were able to see 3 or 4 episodes, but now we want to see more and there's no way. Guess we're going to have to come back!

We were able to do the shopping needed to get us around the north shore of L Superior. In fact, we found a Safeway in Thunder Bay (only the 2nd Safeway we've seen since we left California in 2003).

We also went to WalMart and inquired about pre-paid phones. Our Alltel/Verizon phones were going to cost a bundle to get authorized for international use. The manager at the WalMart spent a lot of time with us telling us about the options, but suggested that we wait till we got further east as long distance rate were based upon the region where you buy the phone. If we waited for Sault Ste. Marie she thought we could save significant charges when using the phone to call ahead for reservations plus we weren't going to find cell coverage along the north shore. Made sense and we appreciated her candid explanation. In fact the kindness we received was repeated over and over our whole time in Canada.

Kakabeka Falls

Kakabeka Falls, just W of Thunder Bay, ON
We took one day and drove to Kakabeka Falls. We'd heard from friends Mike & Susan that it was a must-see if we were ever in the area and they were right. It was beautiful and the walkways were setup for viewing. Especially great for photographers.

Trying to get a drink (!) at Kakabeka Falls
We had the dogs with us, of course, which got a little exciting at times as I was trying to take a few pictures while someone would come up to ask about the dogs and to get in a few pats. Kelly is a little reserved but Annie loves the attention and will usually roll onto her back for a few belly rubs from her newest best friend. I'd be pointing my camera toward the falls and suddenly I'd have a view of the sky and on my way to a prat fall. But it was fun and Celia would usually be able to save the day.

We had a reality check in TB. I started noticing that, even considering any advantage in the exchange rate (less than 4% at the time), the prices for food & household items in Canada- stuff you'd buy at WalMart- were (and I'm sure still are) 10%-20% higher than in the US before you consider taxes. Restaurants were even worse... maybe 30%. We knew that fuel prices were going to be higher... been that way forever. Maybe they balance budgets thru cheaper rents or lower property prices. Dunno as we never had the chance to compare those prices.

15-17 July 2010
(Neys PP)

Along the hwy to Neys PP
When we'd finally convinced ourselves we were restocked, we left Thunder Bay for Neys Provincial Park following the west and then north shores of L Superior. Provincial parks are roughly equivalent to a state park in the US and our experience suggests that the provinces work harder at keeping them natural (no cutting wood, no picking up down-wood, etc.). They also keep the camp sites as natural as possible which can make it difficult to park in the site if you're a putz like me. Neys was our introduction to the PPs and what an introduction it was.

What a view of L Superior!
I'd found a web site that allows a visitor to make reservations on line. It took a lot of fiddling but I managed to find a pull-thru site with 30A hydro. I don't know about the other provincial parks in Ontario, but Neys didn't have sewer connections at any site. They do have dump stations so was going to be high-end dry camping: water and power, no sewer. Our site was facing the shore of L Superior and provided a view of the lake worthy enough to grace a poster. What a spectacular camp site.

The ranger that checked us in suggested pulling in opposite the normal direction so we could have the view thru our rear window. I eye-balled it, but it appeared that the 2 trees standing as sentinels at the entrance to the site were going to keep that from happening. Bummer. It was a great suggestion. It took some fussing but we eventually got situated and had a comfortable site.

The beach across from our camp site
Dogs are not allowed on the beach (another bummer!) which really limited what we could do. However, we were able to use the trails without restriction so we could hike.

Hiking required some caution. Ontario (and perhaps other provinces) is having a problem with invasive growth of Giant Hog Weed. The plant, originally from China, can be highly toxic and under the right circumstances has caused blindness. Our first walk near our campground found us dodging around a half dozen of these big nasties.

Our neighbor's rig
A neighbor at Neys told us that Thunder Bay didn't exist before 1970. In that year the adjoining cities of Port Arthur and Fort William merged their resources and became the city of Thunder Bay. Turns out he was a retired policeman from TB and a fountain of information for newbies like us.

We enjoyed our 2 nights in Neys - it was all I could manage to get and we wanted more! - but had to pull out of the best RV site ever made. We headed up the road about 50 miles to White Lake PP for another 2-nighter.

Wild flowers at Neys PP

I believe this was the landing area for brining in prisoners of war during WW-II

Sunset on the N shore of L Superior

17-19 July 2010
(White Lake PP)

Dense woods at our White L PP site
While Neys PP is on L Superior and situated with the shore as the focus, White Lake PP is very secluded with the camp sites obscured and no view of the lake it's named for unless you hike to the shore. White L is more rustic & woodsy than Neys with tall trees and low brush around each site. Our site had the same amenities as we found at Neys, but the hydro was further away. The power pylons seemed to be sprinkled without regard for where the camp sites are located. [ Sadly the many photos I took at White L PP seem to have vanished into the hungry bowels of my computer. This after-sunset shot is all I can offer. ]

Thanks to the seemingly random placement of the pylons, we struggled when it came time to connect since our power cord was only 25' and we needed about 60'. A neighbor helped us get situated and when he heard about our power dilemma, he immediately went digging for his 30-A extension. That proved to be too short, so we decided to just use a 15-A connection and string together however many cords we needed. A short while later he was back with yet another 30-A extension, this one from a friend of his that was camped up the road a bit. So with our 25' 50-A cable and 30-A/50-A adapter plus their two 30-A cables we were able to get connected. We were really taken aback by their kindness and willingness to help a couple old toots they'd never seen before and would likely not meet again. Wow! Thanks guys.

It turned out that most of the folks we saw at White L PP are locals who spend their weekends at the park. Their sites are chosen as part of a Spring lottery. While their rigs are all movable, they generally don't move further than the site they get assigned the next season. Since they had to be back at work come Monday, by Sunday evening things were really quiet. Families packed up the leftovers and the dirty laundry and headed home till the following weekend. There were perhaps 50 campsites in our immediate area with no more than 5 families in residence Sunday nite even though 45 of the 50 sites had a rig parked. (I recall a time when you could do this sort of thing at Yosemite in California... but that's ancient history!)

I asked one camper what the primary employment was in the area and he said most people work for the gold mine. He had a 2-hr drive to get home and left about 7 PM to catch some sleep before getting to work at 6 AM the next morning. He and his wife still took time to be gracious hosts as we chatted inside their (portable) screen room.

We could only get these 4 nights camping at 2 provincial parks. The parks are popular and booked pretty much to the max during the good-weather season. Plus many of the parks are small or have confined roads and can't accommodate our size rig. But we enjoyed what we could get, returned the borrowed power cables, and headed out for Sault Ste. Marie the next day.

19-25 July 2010
(Sault Ste. Marie)
Entrance at KOA Sault Ste. Marie
We made reservations at the KOA in Sault Ste. Marie before we left Thunder Bay as we knew we wouldn't have internet access while we were on the N Shore of L Superior. It was a good thing too as the park is very busy, it's beautiful, and it's popular. There were weekenders and a few long term renters, but about half were like us: just passing thru. The park has lots of very tall trees to provide shade with just the right amount of filtered light to keep the grass growing and make it note seem too dark.

The office building
The owners had just recently purchased the park and were working hard to make sure everything was done right. They already have an off-leash area, but they hoped to expand it soon to several times its current size. Yee haw! Annie & Kelly are going to love that.

Sault Ste. Marie is where we decided to get the pre-paid phones which we did. Back to WalMart since we had gotten such knowledgeable advice there when in Thunder Bay. Well, the advice wasn't as good, but thanks to the previous help we knew what was going on and bought the phones. I managed to get one set up right away. We needed to make reservations in Barrie & Parry Sound as we got ourselves on the way to visit with Doug & Pat of home-made-doughnut fame, as well Glen & Dale who were our neighbors in Clewiston, FL.

Then I called Verizon to get voice mail messages and what should I find but 3 messages from our alarm company... never a good sign. Protection One was having trouble accessing the alarm to do their test of the system and wanted us to know so we could schedule a tech for repair. We called the person who was checking our house occasionally and I happened to reach her while she was there. Perfect timing, but the news wasn't so good. Turns out there was a power problem. Some lights were working, but everything in the kitchen was dead including the appliances. Oh joy.

Then we called friends who are familiar with the house pretty well in order to get a 2nd opinion and an  objective look at what the problem might be. They ran thru pretty much every circuit and found the ones that were alive and of those that were dead they all had tripped GFIs which wouldn't reset. So with that choice bit of info we had a couincil meeting. The consensus was we needed to go home. Not a good news day.

We dragged our feet another couple days, taking a walking tour of the waterfront area of Sault Ste. Marie. The replica of BOUNTY was there and we dodged around more goose-poop than I've ever seen in my life. The dogs had no issue with it... they think goose-poop is an hors d'hourve!
Sault Ste. Marie waterfront
The HMS BOUNTY replica

The BOUNTY again

In the US what this tourist is looking at would be called a 'dolphin striker'. Dunno what the Royal Navy thought to call it!

Our Sault Ste. Marie KOA camp site... nice!
View past the DIY rig-washing site

The large-group open area
More of Sault Ste. Marie KOA

But eventually there was no choice but to pull the plug and get moving southwest. I called and cancelled all the just-made reservations and we moved back across the border. An
d what an experience that was

12 July 2010

Postcard from Minnesota

7-8 July 2010
(Moorhead, MN)

We headed north on I-29 to Fargo, ND (remember the movie? it wasn't even in Fargo!), then turned across the river to Moorhead, MN. It was a grey ride with only a little light rain. We were pretty happy about that as there had been some nasty T-storms across the region the night before. They missed Sioux Falls but clobbered the area we were driving thru. Neither of us had been very happy seeing the Tornado Watch pop up on the bottom of the TV screen with a list of affected counties. Apparently no tornados formed that night and we were out of the region before new T-storm activity could start that afternoon.

I'd made a reservation for the night at the KOA in Moorhead. It was a challenge getting there as there was major construction going on and we missed the correct turn the first time. After we got to the site I realized I wasn't in what I'd requested on line. In fact, when I got the confirmation it was for a lesser price than the site I'd selected. When I asked at the office I was told what they gave us was all that was available. The site was nothing but 2 muddy ruts and would have taken more than the 2 boards we carry to get the coach level; it had 30 Amp power instead of 50 Amp; and there was no sewer connection. When we looked around at the rest of the park we realized it had probably been underwater for awhile. So, since I hadn't unhitched, it was no big deal to pull out of the site and leave.

We stopped on the road in front while I called a golf/RV resort in Detroit Lakes, MN and found a space for the nite. The resort turned out to be a very upscale park directed at golfers, but they made sites available for transients to keep the occupancy max'ed out. Most of the sites are deeded (privately owned) and all were perfectly landscaped. We were in the newest section which was furthest from the clubhouse... it was perfect for us non-golfers. It was a showplace. Gorgeous.

8-11 July 2010
(Detroit Lakes, MN)

Diesel was a challenge at Detroit Lakes. I must have driven 15 miles, most of it in circles, before I spotted diesel at a Sinclair station. With that done the nite before, we were away early and headed for the general area of Duluth, MN to the town of Cloquet, MN.

Enjoying the view (but not the heat!)
Overlook at the Welcome Center
It was a pleasant drive to Cloquet thru rolling, wooded country side. We even found a great lunch stop beside a lake. The park was another older KOA which mostly serves weekender clientele. Our timing was unfortunate as our stay overlapped the weekend and we had to move for the last nite. But there was a WalMart and other shopping nearby and we found a place with very good pizza for our nite out.

Duluth street fair
Some folks were actually (aarrgh!) working
We drove into Duluth and found there was a street fair going on in the older downtown area. We wandered thru and the dogs drew a lot of attention. Most people find old retirees like us pretty much invisible, but dog lovers will ever ignore our dogs. We end up meeting a lot of new people who would normally pass us by with no more than a nod.

...and this is the old guy himself
Lief Ericson Park...

Amazing gardens at the park

Getting out of Duluth turned out to be a challenge. I-35 was all torn up and we had the devil's own time finding the detour. I stared holes in the map trying to get oriented (it was a highway map and lacked detail), but eventually I spotted enough landmarks that we managed to connect to MN-61 which follows the West shore of L. Superior.

11-12 July 2010
(Grand Marais, MN)

The Admiral spotted a pie shop on the way to Grand Marais, MN, but traffic was heavy and by the time I spotted parking adequate for us I was past the entrance with no way to turn around. So the Captain was in deep doo-doo. The road is a little tight with a few miles of construction and some potholes to avoid, so I was pretty busy staying out of trouble. All-in-all the road was fine all the way to Grand Marais, especially when I spotted another pie shop on the outskirts of Grand Marais. Hallelujah! I am saved!

Grand Marais City Park
Lots of space to walk
Grand Marais, MN is a gem. We stayed at the city park and enjoyed the stop immensely. It's right on the shore of L Superior and is a beautiful setting. The next time we come this way we'll know to get reservations well ahead and enjoy the area for awhile. The town goes out of the way to attract tourists- both US & Canadian- and there was a lot to see with just a little strolling. I understand they put on a great fireworks display for the 4th.

Grand Marais Harbor entrance
We did a little prep'ing before heading to the border in the morning. We off loaded everything that was fresh food per the instructions on Canada's web site associated with imports.

We got an early start (for us!), walked the dogs, dumped more garbage, then drove the 30 or so miles to the Canadian border, much of the drive along the lake shore.