Friday, June 27, 2014

A Fabulous Time for a Moon Walk

We didn’t really visit the moon. The campgrounds there don’t offer cable TV. But we did visit Craters of the Moon National Monument in southern Idaho, which is almost as good.


In 1923 Geologist Harold T. Stearns described the place as “the surface of the moon seen through a telescope”, thus the name. It’s really a large lava flow created by magma coming to the surface of the earth through fissures. There is no big volcano here. The most  recent “eruption” here was about 2000 years ago.


All of the rocks here are volcanic in origin and very similar to what can be seen around Kilauea on the big island of Hawaii. The big difference is that Kilauea is still erupting and this place has been quiet long enough for plant life to begin to make a comeback.

DSC_0381 Although lava itself is sterile and hard as, well, as a rock, the soil and nutrients needed to support plant life actually blow in from the surrounding countryside, and eventually plants can take root.


If you’ve ever been to the Big Island you’ve probably seen lava formations like this. Walking through this park reminded me that at the time of the Apollo moon landing my grandfather insisted the pictures of the landing weren’t real, but were taken in a studio or someplace else.  Personally, I believe the moon landings were real, but I think I saw a lunar rover behind a cinder cone among the craters. I could be mistaken.

The campground we’re staying in is in the town of Arco, ID. This town of 900 souls’ claim to fame is that in 1955 it became the first city in the world to be powered by nuclear energy as an experiment by the nearby National Laboratory. In 1961 the reactor became the site of the first meltdown in the world, killing 3 people. I wish we had brought a Geiger counter with us.

Thursday, June 26, 2014


We’ve written about our previous visit to the nation’s first national park on our first trip of this odyssey, so I won’t add a lot here, just some observations and differences from previous visits.


Since reading a lot about the fact that Yellowstone is actually one of the biggest volcano calderas in the world, driving through this wonderful park takes on a new meaning, and a little fear. Just a little because, although there are small earthquakes here all the time, the last major eruption was more than 600,ooo years ago. This image is of mud volcano, which is one of the many vents pushing up smelly steam from deep in the earth. Will there be another major eruption? Sure, but not likely in the lifetime of anyone reading this nor their great, great, great, great, great grandchildren. But, one never knows.


The waterfalls haven’t changed much, but there seems to be a lot more water.  That’s probably because there’s been a lot of snow this winter, so the Yellowstone river falls are looking quite spectacular.

The biggest change that Penny and I noticed relates to the wildlife seen along the park roads.


We first visited Yellowstone in 1970. At that time the predominant animals seen along the road were black bears. You could hardly drive two miles without being stopped at a “bear jam” with brilliant tourists getting out of their cars to hand Yogi or Boo-Boo a sandwich. During our 2009 visit we saw nary a bruin. We were told the Park Rangers had started a bear re-education program to keep the bears and tourist separate. It was obvious that trying to education the tourists about the danger of treating a 300 pound wild animal like a house pet wasn’t working out too well. This year we saw just two bear jams, and only a few geniuses got out of their cars.


The predominant animal now is clearly the American bison, and based on the numbers of baby bison we saw, they are multiplying like rabbits. And there were bison jams—miles of bison jams.

In addition to bears and bison, we spotted elk, mule deer, andDSC_0359 ground squirrels. We kept looking for moose, but didn’t find any. Perhaps if we actually got out of the truck and walked along some trails we would have found a moose or two, but then again, there’s grizzly bears on them there trails, so who needs moose?

Monday, June 23, 2014

Please Mr. Custer, I Don’t Wanna Go…

We’re currently camped at an RV park in the Little Bighorn River area of Montana. The place is called the 7th Ranch RV Camp, and ever since I first found it in the campground listings I’d been wondering what happened to the first 6 ranches. After exploring the area and seeing other businesses called the 7th this or the 7th that, a light bulb went on over my head. General Custer was in charge of the 7th Cavalry, so businesses  around Custer’s last stand have picked up “7th” for their names.


The first thing you see upon arrival at the Little Bighorn Battlefield National Monument is the cemetery.  And probably like most first-time visitors I assumed these are the graves of soldiers who died in the battle of June 1876. Actually, only a handful of these graves are those of this battle’s dead. This is a National Cemetery like Arlington and others around the country, so these graves are mostly soldiers who died in other wars.


Most of the dead of this battle of the Indian Wars are interred in a mass grave under this monument. Originally, the 300-plus dead were buried where they lay, but some years later the bodies were disinterred and moved to the mass grave or returned to relatives for burial. General Custer, for example, is buried at West Point.



The spots where each of the soldiers, and some civilians who were with the 7th,  fell are indicated with small marble markers. Interestingly, one of the civilians who died here was Boston Custer, and I’m sure there’s a record somewhere to indicate whether he was related to the General.




We spotted a couple of other markers indicating where some of the Indians were killed. Overall, the Sioux, Crow, Cheyenne and other tribes lost 100 warriors in the battles over two days.







There’s also a mass grave for the horses that died during the battle.






The battlefield is located on the Crow reservation and a tour guided by Native Americans was quite informative and entertaining. Luella told us that the 7th Cavalry under Custer was poorly trained (some even had very little experience riding horses) and poorly armed. The Indians had repeating rifles and the soldiers had single shot rifles that needed to be reloaded after firing.

There’s a very nice memorial for the Native Americans who died at the Little Bighorn, but it wasn’t built until 1991. It includes quotations from a number of well-known chiefs. I think this one sums up the Indian wars very nicely.


Saturday, June 21, 2014

My, My, My Medora

In 1883 a French aristocrat, the Marquis de Mores, thought it would be cool to move to North Dakota and set up a cattle ranch and slaughterhouse (or to him, an abattoir), to supplant Kansas City and Chicago as the source of beef shipped to the east coast. The Marquis didn’t really know much about cattle ranching, but he talked to people and found a nice tract of grassland in western North Dakota.


So he bought the land, built a 26 room hunting cabin (compared to the castle back in the old country, this really was a cabin) brought in cattle, and built a slaughter- house/packing plant.

As far as the meat business was concerned, de Mores was no Oscar Meyer. More on that later.


He hired some folks to handle the cattle and the meat packing, and used the house, which became known locally as the “chateau”, to entertain his friends, mainly from New York, where he had established a residence. When guests were invited to the hunting cabin they were warned that they would be roughing it.


Some were even asked to share one of the 10 bedrooms in the house. The Marquis and his wife Medora each had their own suite, but his had something of an innovation for the time and place.


His suite had an indoor outhouse. That square box behind the weird bathtub is the device one would expect to find in an outdoor outhouse. The only difference was that there was no hole under the box. There was a tray that was accessible from outside, and one of the servants would empty it at regular intervals. I guess that’s no weirder than a servant emptying a chamber pot, and with  much less mess in the case of a spill.

Anyway, back to the cattle business. Turns out that the rich grass the Marquis saw during his pre-purchase tour of the land was an aberration.  Although there is cattle in western Dakota, this is an area with an arid climate – about 12 to 15 inches of rain per year. Not nearly enough to grow the amount of grass needed to support a major cattle operation. So the endeavor failed and after 3 years the Marquis moved back to New York. Medora loved the house and loved to hunt, so she spent time here after the business failed. The town that grew up around the ranch became known as Medora, and that’s its official name to this day.


A few years after the slaughterhouse closed, it burned down. All that’s left is the big chimney you can see in the distance in this photo taken from the porch of the chateau.


Visiting the Chateau de Mores wasn’t our prime reason for visiting Medora, ND. In fact, we didn’t even know it existed until we got here. We came because Medora is the location of the entrance to one of America’s lesser known national parks: Theodore Roosevelt National Park.

Teddy first came here to hunt bison then spent many years in this area, mainly at his Elkhorn Ranch. The 29,000 acres of North Dakota badlands and grasslands were acquired by the United States in 1946 and the park was named after the area’s favorite son.


The Little Missouri River runs through the park’s three section, south, Elkhorn Ranch (not accessible by road) and north, which is about 50 miles north of the south section. We were told these yellow flowers which were all over the place  are an invasive species of clover which may be taking over for the natural grasses in the park.


The park has DSC_0307a number of species of animals, both large and small, which can often be seen from the road. In the background of this picture you may be able to see some of the 700 bison who call the park home. In the foreground is a very noisy prairie dog who was trying to protect his village from invading humans.


There are also a number of feral horses that were introduced to the park. These aren’t mustangs, but descendants of ranch horses that escaped or were turned loose and now exist as herds of wild horses.

DSC_0317 On a smaller scale, we spotted a couple of dung beetles rolling a ball of, well, dung, along one of the walkways in the park. We don’t know where they were taking it, and we don’t know if it was bison dung, big horn sheep dung, or horse dung. But, does that really matter?

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Let Them Eat…

We’re near Fargo, ND, and as is apparently a frequent occurrence here, the Red River is over its banks.


This isn’t nearly as bad as it was several years ago when the entire town turned out to fill sandbags to protect homes and businesses. At least that’s what was said on TV, so it must be true.

Fargo, like the rest of N. Dakota is currently experiencing a boom, even though most of the oil and gas exploration is taking place about 150 miles west of here. The state hit the 1-million barrels of oil mark just yesterday. So I wonder why diesel fuel is more expensive here than in New Jersey.

DSC_0279 About 20 miles south of Fargo you’ll find the Fort Abercrombie Historic Site. Built during the civil war period, it was named by it founder, Lt. Col. John J. Abercrombie, who founded it, stayed for a few months, then went south to fight rebels. This building, the guard house, is the only original building of the fort. After the Army closed it after the war, the surplus buildings were sold to the highest bidders. This building was removed from the site used on a farm, and brought back when the Site was established.

This fort was involved in a few “battles” with the Santee. One story involves a trader named Andrew Myrick who was contracted by the government to sell food to the Indians on credit as provided by a treaty which took virtually all of the traditional hunting lands and gave the Santee a little land near the river. After a poor harvest, Myrick refused to sell to the Indians and is quoted as saying, perhaps paraphrasing Marie Antoinette,  “let them eat grass or their own dung.” Three days later he was found dead with his mouth stuffed with grass. Ah, frontier justice.

Saturday, June 14, 2014

We’re Still in Wisconsin

And here’s the proof.


We visited Cave of the Mounds. Contrary to what you might think, the mounds are not piles of cheese, nor are they candy bars with coconut inside. The mounds are the remnants of mountains from something like a gazillion years ago.


Nice formations in this active cave, but no bats. The cave system had been completely sealed off until about 50 years ago when the landowner blasted a limestone deposit and found the entrance to the cavern.  A sealed cave means no bats.


The owner apparently realized that tourism has more earning potential than lime, and the rest is history.



Tomorrow we’ll be doing laundry, then it’s off to Minneapolis, Fargo,  and points west, so it will be a few days until I post again.


We’ve seen some amazing things throughout the country (and Canada) during our extended road trips. Each year, when we start the next segment of our odyssey, I find myself thinking nothing can top what we’ve seen on the last trip. But I’m always wrong.

Today we visited the House on the Rock near Madison, Wisconsin.


The house itself is difficult to see because of all the trees surrounding it. I sto…er…borrowed this shot from the web. I think it was taken from the roof of a walkway not accessible to visitors.

The following is from Wikipedia, so it must be true.  

Jane Smiley wrote this about the complex in 1993:

Though most people outside of the Midwest have never heard of it, the House on the Rock is said to draw more visitors every year than any other spot in Wisconsin…On top of a huge monolith, the House on the Rock reveals the spirit of its builder, Alex Jordan Jr., to be as single-minded and eccentric as [nearby resident Frank Lloyd] Wright's, but in substance almost absurdly opposed... And it is hard not to be overwhelmed by the House on the Rock. The sheer abundance of objects is impressive, and the warmth most of the objects exude, the way that the toys ask to be played with, for example, makes the displays inherently inviting. But almost from the beginning, it is too much. The house itself is dusty. Windowpanes are cracked. Books are water damaged. The collections seem disordered, not curated. In fact, there is no effort to explore the objects as cultural artifacts, or to use them to educate the passing hordes. If there were informative cards, it would be impossible to read them in the dark. Everything is simply massed together, and Alex Jordan comes to seem like the manifestation of pure American acquisitiveness, and acquisitiveness of a strangely boyish kind, as if he had finalized all his desires in childhood and never grown into any others.”


The house itself remains dark and dusty, and a bit damp with all of the rocks it is built among. The darkness made it difficult to take decent photographs, but it is truly one of those places which must be seen to be believed.


Jordan built a cantilevered extension to the house that you can see in this picture, which is actually a photo of a photo hanging inside the house. The real thing is difficult to see now through all of the trees.DSC_0232 

This is what it looks like inside. Jordan called it the Infinity Room. I wonder why.



There are three buildings to explore, including the house. There are items on display as small as tiny Asian porcelains and as big as huge industrial equipment and machinery.

DSC_0248 There is what is billed as the world’s largest merry-go-round. It’s a bit hard to see in this picture, but I like the image, and it’s my blog, so you can enjoy it, or not.



You can get a better idea from this picture, but there’s no way to photograph the whole thing. Jordan, with a lot of help, built this carousel himself, and there isn’t one horse on it. Instead, its populated with an assortment of realistic and fantastic animals and other creatures. The downside—nobody rides this wonderful machine. It’s there for viewing pleasure only.


Although there are no horses on the carousel, there are lots of carved equines hanging from the wall in several parts of the collection, so those of the equestrian persuasion shouldn’t feel left out.


There are several other small carousels on display too. They’re referred to as “doll carousels” and they include dolls of all, um, sizes.


It took us more than three hours to tour the House on the Rock, and we just glanced at some of the collections of Asian art, antique guns, armor, cannons, carriages, and so much stuff it would take a book to catalog. But I’m tired and I’m going to bed. If you are really interested, there are actually several books about the place, so go to and knock yourself out.

Monday, June 09, 2014


One problem with writing a travel blog is that sometimes there’s nothing interesting to write about. We’re currently in Ohio. That pretty much says it all.

Friday, June 06, 2014

If it Isn’t One Thing…

Anybody who’s been following our blog knows that RVing is 90% great, and 10% not so great. I left out the not-so stuff in what I posted yesterday, so now it’s time to catch up. Sorry if this seems long, but it definitely felt even longer when it happened.

We arrived in Massachusetts late in the afternoon, and Penny started to prepare dinner. I take a bunch of pills with dinner (I take another bunch with breakfast) so when I got ready to eat dinner I looked in the cabinet where I keep the pills. NO PILLS. Now, since we’re usually on the road three months at a time, before we depart I arrange to get a backup supply from our online pharmacy, and I did that. But not for all of the pills. So I was able to take the ones I had, but the others were still at home in the kitchen. Long story short, we called Diana, who is taking care of the house, and asked her to overnight the pills to us at the campground. They arrived early the next morning, at a shipping cost of merely $82. I won’t make that mistake again.

As mentioned previously, we had a lovely time with Al and Christie, and departed for our next destination on an island in Lake Ontario. The next day was spent at various RV shops and hardware stores looking for repairs and parts. The New York State DOT has been busy resurfacing some of the interstates, and on one stretch of I-91 they had only a single lane open, marked off with miles of traffic cones. The cones were positioned about 12 inches into the open lane. Not a problem with a car, but our trailer is a lot wider than a car. The shoulder was full of pot holes, so I tried to walk the line, or drive the line, between the cones and the holes. I thought I did pretty well.

We arrived at our island campground and set up. When I turned on the water hose, water started pouring out of the bottom of the trailer. This was the first indication that I had apparently hit one of those traffic cones, which apparently bounced up and broke off something called a low-point drain, which permits all the water in the trailers pipes to be drained for the winter. With the drain fitting missing, the system can’t hold water. So I tried to attach some (wrong) spare parts and wrap them with supposedly waterproof tape, but my amateur repair didn’t work. Fortunately, we stay at campgrounds that have bath houses.

The next morning we called a nearby RV shop, and the service manager agreed to help us out if we could bring the trailer to the shop. So we packed up and disconnected. Which is when I noticed a tail light lens was missing as was a lens on one of the side running lights. I also noticed that the handle that opens (and closes) one of the waste water outlet valves was broken off, and the cap for the sewer drain was missing. Hmm, that flying traffic cone must have been really busy bouncing around under the trailer.

We got to the RV shop and the service manager needed about 2 minutes (with the right part and some knowledge) to fix the low point drain. They didn’t have any of the other parts we needed, so we brought the trailer back to the campground, set up camp again, then drove the truck more than 50 miles to Syracuse to shop other RV centers and hardware stores for the stuff we needed. We actually found all of it, drove back to camp, and made the repairs.

All was well. Until the next day when we were preparing to leave. That’s when I noticed that the errant traffic cone also broke the PVC drain pipe from the shower stall. Why I didn’t notice the broken pipe earlier, I have no idea, but there it was, as big as life. Since we were heading in that direction anyway, we called one of the shops in Syracuse to see if they had a technician available to fix the broken pipe. They did, so we went there and had that fixed.

Now, we’re at another campground at another lake, and everything seems to be working and no more parts seem to be missing. Fingers crossed. And just think, this was all in the first week of this trip.

Thursday, June 05, 2014

On the Road and Taking the Circle Route

Our 2014 odyssey has begun. First stop: Westhampton, MA, at a campground called Springfield/Northampton KOA. You’ll notice the word “Westhampton” doesn’t appear in the name. I guess the owners figured Springfield and Northampton (home of Smith College) have better name recognition, and they’re not THAT far away.

DSC_0229We had a great visit with Penny’s son Al and his lovely wife Christina.

We also drove to the top of Mt. Holyoke, the actual mountain, not the college. The mountain isn’t quite 1000 feet high, which doesn’t make it much of a mountain. But the one lane winding road to the top holds it’s own with any mountain road we’ve been on. No pictures: hands on the wheel. The building at the top has served several functions including as a bar during the 1800s for hunters and other outdoorsmen (and a few outdoorswomen). Hope they didn’t attempt to drive down after downing a few.


Great views from up here. That’s the Connecticut River meandering through the farmland below. In case you don’t have a map of New England memorized, The area we visited is central Mass, just east of the Berkshires.

Our next stop was Association Island New York, which is in Lake Ontario (no ferry, just a causeway to drive over) near the mouth of the St. Lawrence River. Getting here is where the “Circle Route” came into play. I don’t know if our GPS has developed a sense of humor or she (her name is Maggie) was being spiteful, but twice she directed us to exit I-81 and loop back one exit, then get back on the Interstate in the same direction, and past the ramp she had told us to exit. She tried to do it a third time, but I caught on and made a U-turn and got right back on the highway.

We’re heading west tomorrow, but I wouldn’t be too surprise if Maggie directs us back to New Jersey.