Friday, August 26, 2011

Heading Towards Irene

Okay, we spent a night in Ohio and are currently at Knoebels Amusement Park campground in Elysburg, PA. We’ll be racing Irene to New Jersey tomorrow morning, but we should be okay since we’re only 3 hours from home and Irene isn’t due to arrive until the afternoon.

We had a lot of fun at Knoebels. We met our friend Carol and her son Matt here and spent most of the day riding rides and eating junk food. They have really good bumper cars here and we rode them 3 times. This is a neat, old-fashioned amusement park with no admission charge and reasonable prices for food and the rides. There’s a 500 site campground on the property so we stayed and played in the same park.


Can you see Penny in the car near the top of this picture? No? Neither can I. We didn’t go on this ride. I lifted the picture from Knoebels web site. The scariest ride we did was the Haunted House.

Friday, August 19, 2011

Groundhog Day

I forgot to mention in the previous post that the Illinois town we’re in is Woodstock, which is where the movie “Groundhog Day” was filmed.

I forgot to mention in the previous post that the Illinois town we’re in is Woodstock, which is where the movie “Groundhog Day” was filmed.

I forgot to mention in the previous post that the Illinois town we’re in is Woodstock, which is where the movie “Groundhog Day” was filmed.

I forgot to mention in the previous post that the Illinois town we’re in is Woodstock, which is where the movie “Groundhog Day” was filmed.

I forgot to mention in the previous post that the Illinois town we’re in is Woodstock, which is where the movie “Groundhog Day” was filmed.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Goin’ to the Fair

The Iowa State Fair was huge. The only pictures I took were of three hitches of Belgians in unicorn hitches, but we’ve seen enough horses on this blog so I’m not posting them. Anyway, we spent the afternoon at the fair, but it would have taken two days to see everything. We saw the butter cow, we caught the very end of the outhouse races, we saw people eating steak on a stick, steak sundaes, corn dogs, cotton candy, all kinds of sausages, and more different kinds of food than I’ve ever seen in one place. We ate really good barbequed beef ribs and I’m still trying to get the sauce out of my moustache. We didn’t see any presidents or presidential candidates.

We’re now in rural Illinois, not too far from President Obama’s stop in this state. I wonder if he’s following us.

Friday we’re going to Horse Days in Belvidere, IL, which is a horse expo followed by a PRCA rodeo. Then next week we’re planning to tour the Cardinal RV factory in Indiana, and maybe get some answers about why parts seem to keep loosening up and falling off. So far, the dropping parts haven’t been significant, but we’re not home yet.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Nebraska: Who Knew?

An overriding theme of this blog, and what we’ve learned in our travels, is that every place in this country, and Canada too, no matter how small or seemingly insignificant from afar, has something interesting to offer to the traveler. I’ve been to Nebraska before: once on a business trip to Lincoln, and passing through on our almost cross-country RV trip in 1970. Both times my impression was corn, corn, and more corn. And not much else.

We arrived in a small town near Grand Island, NE a couple of days ago planning to make this a quick one-nighter, and be on our way. BTW, ever since passing through in 1970 we’ve wondered where the island was. We’re looking for a big island, but a big island in the Platte River didn’t seem to make sense. So we asked a waitress in a local restaurant and learned that many years ago a branch of the Platte detoured around a chunk of land that was several miles long. So the early settlers called the area Grand Island. The island is gone due to shifting sands and damn dams, but the name stuck.

Anyway, we’ve extended our stay here for two more nights. Yes, there is corn, a lot of corn, but there is also a fascinating history.DSC_0319

Our first clue that there might be something to see here came to us as we approached what looked like a giant foot bridge over I-80. As it turned out, it is sort of a foot bridge, but it’s also a unique museum. It was built over I-80 to symbolize the transportation hub this area was and is, beginning in the mid-1800s. This valley along the Platte River was a place where three of the wagon train trails to the west, as well as the Pony Express, converged.DSC_0310 Hundreds of wagons filled with Mormons, gold seekers, and just plain folks looking for a better life (“go west young man”) passed this spot in the 19th century.

The Great Platte River Road Archway commemorates the heroism and hardships of those pioneers without whom we might not have California as a state. Hmm. Maybe they should have stayed home. But then again, they also settled in Oregon and Washington, so they did some good.

But I digress. The Archway has some historical artifacts, but it is primarily a series of dioramas showing the pioneer’s progress. It wasn’t at all like that old TV show Wagon Train. DSC_0296

Horses and oxen pulled those Conestoga wagons through mud and snow, over mountains, and through rocky passes. One of the people in this diorama is just trying to help.


This diorama depicts a famous incident during which a group of Mormons pulling human-drawn carts on the way to Salt Lake City got hit with an early snow storm. Since they were late to arrive, Brigham Young became concerned and sent a couple of young men to find them. Although some were lost, most of the travelers were rescued.

Another attraction in this area of Nebraska is Pioneer Village, which sounds like it would be a recreation of, well, a pioneer village. But it turned out to be so much more. DSC_0321

Yes, there are buildings depicting the progress of the settlers in the area, but there are 28 building on 20 acres housing an incredible collection of artifacts depicting every aspect of human endeavor, much of it in chronological order. It is a collection worthy of the Smithsonian or other great museums depicting American history. DSC_0338

There’s a lot of agricultural implements including a dozen or so steam tractors. There are model rooms depicting the way people lived from the early 1800's through the mid-1900s.


There’s a huge collection of antique automobiles and trucks. The gizmo in this photo is a convertible Ford that converts to a tractor. Note the back wheels. There are antique airplanes, a huge carriage collection, tools, firearms, equipment from an old TV studio, pretty much everything a developing America used during its development. We only spent two hours in this place. Two full days would have been needed to see all of the collections.

And lest I forget to mention it, they have a steam-driven carrousel.

DSC_0329 Tomorrow we’re heading to Iowa and the Iowa State Fair. I don’t know if Sara Palin will still be there, but if she is I’d like to have a word with her.

Tuesday, August 09, 2011

Horses and Rocks

Rock Springs, Wyoming is home to one of the Bureau of Land Management’s wild horse preserves and processing centers. DSC_0256

The preserve is thousands of acres of mountain desert where these hearty mustangs live free and multiply. The BLM has a 24 mile self-guided tour of the preserve where we did see some horses, but they were far away. We didn’t have any carrots or sugar cubes to attract them, although at one point Penny thought about hiking about a quarter mile to one lone horse. I convinced her that there were probably less than friendly snakes and other animals in the desert which wouldn’t take kindly to being stepped on.


The BLM tries to maintain a specific herd size, so they periodically round up horses and ready them for adoption. Most of the adopted horses can be trained to do anything any other horses can be trained to do, and the average cost to adopt one is just $185. But there’s a long list of requirements for potential adoptive parents. All I can say here is that it’s a good thing we don’t have a horse trailer with us.

On our first big trip, three years ago we stopped in Rock Springs just for a night. When we got here we saw a lot of signs for the Flaming Gorge National Recreation Area. It sounded interesting, but we were on our way to Steamboat Springs, so we didn’t have time to explore the gorge. This time we had the time. It turns out the gorge is almost 50 miles long…mostly in Wyoming, but with the southern part in Utah. We weren’t planning to go that far, so we drove south to see what we could see in Wyoming. What a disappointment. There was a nice lake in the desert, but no gorge and nothing flaming. So we decided to go all the way to Utah. Here’s what we found:

DSC_0288 There really is a gorge in Flaming Gorge National Recreation Area, and some of the rocks are so red they look like they’re aflame.


There’s a “geological loop” road in part of the gorge that runs through examples of the various types of rock formations in this area where dinosaurs once walked. We didn’t see any dinosaurs, and we didn’t see any fossils, except those in the information center, but we did see a DSC_0283 female big horn sheep near Sheep Creek, of all places.

We then headed back to Rock Springs and the campground. At around sunset I walked outside and saw something that explains why some people really love the high desert. So I’ll end this entry with a picture of what I saw in the sky.


Monday, August 08, 2011

The Tetons

It rained, so no rodeo. We spent three nights at the campground just north of Grand Teton National Park. No bears in the campground this time, which is a good thing because a couple camped near us chose to ignore all of the “bear aware” warnings visitors are given. Basically, keep anything that may smell like food to a bear locked up. That means greasy grills, all of your food, trash, you get the idea. This couple set up a complete outdoor kitchen, and kept it out in the open the entire time they were there. The campground even provides bear proof steel containers at campsites for folks camping in tents or pop up trailers with canvas sides. As I said, its a good thing Yogi and friends didn’t stop by.

DSC_0229  Anyway, the last time we visited this park it rained every day and the magnificent mountains were sheathed in cloud and mist. This time, the sun was out, and light tends to make for better photographs. The Tetons range up to 13,000 feet or so, which doesn’t make them the tallest mountains in the Rockies, but because they sort of grow right out of the valley floor, they are among the most spectacular. This is actually our 4th visit to the park, and the views never get old.DSC_0221

This shot is just to prove that Penny was there too. I told her I didn’t think this was the best time to be wearing a tee shirt emblazoned with the logo of the United States Senate, but it’s her favorite shirt.

In addition to the bears, the park is home to moose, elk, bison, wolves and deer. We saw a moose at a great distance with binoculars, an elk near the road, several deer, including one that ran out in front of the truck (I’ve had lots of practice avoiding those), and what we think was a herd of bison, so far away they could have been cattle.

At one of the overlooks, everyone was looking at what seemed to be a moose in the far distance. Without binoculars it looked like a tiny brown spot. With binoculars, it looked like a slightly larger brown spot, maybe with a head. We went back to that overlook hours later and that brown spot hadn’t moved. We realized then that it was a pile of logs, or a building, or something that wasn’t a moose. This overlook is prime moose viewing territory, so pretty much everyone who stops there thinks they’ve seen a moose. By the way, we stopped there the next day and the thing still hadn’t moved. I can’t help but wonder if a Ranger put the object there just to give the tourists something to look at.

But there real attraction here is the mountains.DSC_0217

Everywhere we visit we pick up the local real estate guides just to get an idea of property values. The Jackson and Jackson Hole area is one of the most expensive in the country, and a lot of people use their homes here as vacation retreats. Anything with a view will start at around $900,000 and go up from there. Even the condos are in the seven figure range.

Right now we’re in Rock Springs, WY, which is considered high desert. Tomorrow we’re going to drive through a place called Flaming Gorge, and  take a self-guided drive through one of the Bureau of Land Management’s wild horse preserves. If we see any horses there will be pictures.

Thursday, August 04, 2011

Bearing Up

Back in 1970, when we visited Yellowstone National Park the first time, there were bears all over the place. You could bearly drive a mile without coming to a bear jam, where tourists would stop their cars, and regardless of the warnings, feed the bears. Apparently the National Park Service got tired of dealing with bear v. stupid people confrontations (bears are cute and friendly, until the picinic basket is empty), so they began to reeducate the bears about the dangers of hanging out with humans. A popular motto in the park became “a fed bear is a dead bear”  because any bears that now become acclimated to humans are relocated, and if they return, they are euthanized. Today, driving through Yellowstone, you will barely see any bears. They do sniff around the campgrounds on occasion, and a visitor may get eaten by a grizzly in the back country on occasion, but for the most part the bears and humans in the park keep to themselves.


A local entrepreneur who used to enjoy seeing the Yellowstone bears got the idea to recreate the experience in a controlled environment, so he opened Yellowstone Bear World near Idaho Falls, ID, about 60 miles west of the park. Here tourists drive their own vehicles through the park to get a good look at dozens of black bears roaming free. DSC_0172 All of the bears here were born in the park and hand raised, but, except for closely supervised opportunities, the bears and people are separated by car windows, which aren’t allowed to be opened. Since people will be people, there are also lots of handouts and signs warning folks that they are responsible for their own actions – meaning the park won’t pay up if junior decides to flee the back seat and present Yogi with some tasty body parts.


The park also has a section containing grizzlies, but we saw just one, and he seemed more intent on cooling off in the stream than in investigating the tourists.


There are other animals in the park as well, including a rare white elk, and several varieties of deer. There’s also a moose named Stiltz, who, like all moose when I try to get a picture, was hiding in the trees when we drove by. So, no picture of Stiltz.

Tonight, unless it rains, we’re going to a local rodeo and tomorrow we’re heading through Yellowstone Park to the same campground where we camped on our first trip three years ago. I don’t think there’s wi fi or cell service there, so it may not be until next week that I add another entry here. Oh, last time we were in this campground a large grizzly bear was reportedly seen in the park. But don’t worry, we have whistles and bear spray.

Monday, August 01, 2011

Big Sky Country

Off course, most of the mountain and prairie states of the west can claim a big sky, but Montana made it official.DSC_0140 We’re in a little town called Deer Lodge, which is between Missoula and Butte. One of the neat things about our trips is the discovery of awe-inspiring scenery or extremely interesting places we didn’t know about until we got into the area. Take Deer Lodge, for example. We’re were planning to head east on I-90 and needed to find a place to stop for the night. Unless we have a specific destination in mind, I calculate miles from where we are to between 200 and 300 miles in the direction we’re going, then look for a campground. So Deer Lodge is 280 miles from Spokane, WA, and there were a couple of decent campgrounds listed, so that’s where we headed.


Little did we know that Deer Lodge is home to the Grant-Kohrs Ranch National Historic Site. The ranch was donated to the National Park Service in 1977. It’s a working cattle ranch of 1600 acres, which is a fraction of the 35,000 which made up the ranch in it’s late 19th century heyday. Conrad Kohrs, the founder, was known as the Cattle King of Montana. At the time, the western plains were open range, and Kohrs grazed his cattle on millions of acres from Colorado north into Canada. DSC_0141

Today, the ranch maintains about 100 head of cattle, and the entire place is open to tourists who are interested in the way cattle were raised in the old west.


The ranch is staffed by volunteers and part-time rangers who do all the work required to maintain the buildings and livestock.

At it’s peak, the ranch sold 10,000 head of cattle yearly, which made Mr. Kohrs a very rich man.  Although the house and ranch were vacant for quite a few years before the property was given the the NPS, everything on the ranch is original to the Kohrs family, including Mr. Kohrs’ unusual desk, whichKohrs Desk could be folded up and locked when the boss was traveling.

Even though the house is open for tours, no photos are permitted inside, so this interior shot is from the NPS web site.

One feature of a visit to the ranch is the opportunity to sample “cowboy coffee” made by the cook at the chuck wagon. DSC_0155 Penny and I tried it, and it wasn’t too bad, considering its made by just dumping coffee grinds into a pot of hot water. The only problem is that the grinds tend to get stuck between your teeth.


We had a nice chat with one of the volunteer cowboys, who is really a dairy farmer from Wisconsin.

Tonight we’re going to attend a presentation of Much Ado About Nothing by Montana Shakespeare in the Parks at the Old Montana State Prison, which is also located here in Deer Lodge. The prison is no longer occupied by bad guys and the prison is now a tourist attraction. Interestingly, some of the bad guys who now live in the state prison in another part of the state make handcrafted bridles and other items out of horse hair. Their work is quite nice, and quite expensive. The western bridles go for $1500 and up. We didn’t buy one.