Saturday, May 7, 2011

A Shopping and Fix-it Day

I promised pictures of our sites in the FamCamp, and I was able to get some good shots today in between the raindrops.

The Forbes’ Phaeton on the left, the Hills’ Dutch Star on the right.DSCN5591

We’re directly across from them. All sites are large and have plenty of grass.DSCN5592

Today we had a chance to shop in the BX (Base Exchange) and Commissary at Malmstrom AFB, and also made a quick trip to the local Walmart Supercenter. We stopped by a Starbucks store to stock up on coffee beans, and Don went to an RV supply store early in the day to get a new plug for the electrical cable that connects the toad (towed car) to the motorhome. We’ve had intermittent problems with the turn signals and brake lights when towing the car for some time. Yesterday, we didn’t have any lights at all. The problem turned out to be that the wires had pulled out of the plug. So he bought a new plug, and together we figured out where all the 6 wires went. He connected it, tested, and got the right side lights working, but the left side still didn’t work. I remembered that we had a fuse fail in the past, so he checked that, and it was indeed the problem.

The fuse is so small, I had trouble getting a clear picture of it.DSCN5581

The fuse is a mini-auto 20-amp fuse. We checked 3 places for it – found it at Walmart. However, they were out of the $2.79 package of 20-amp mini-auto fuses. The only way to get one was to buy a Bonus Pack for $16.88 that included 7 each of mini-auto fuses in 6 various amperages, plus a fuse tester. At least we now have the problem fixed.

If we ever need another mini-auto fuse, we’re prepared!DSCN5582

We bought a set of external speakers for our small Acer notepad computer. Don uses it primarily for the Silverleaf system that monitors the motorhome’s operation (more about that in another blog). I loaded Microsoft Streets & Trips 2011 with the GPS sensor (thanks, Rick!) so we could use it to guide our trips. It might eventually replace “Tita” the Magellan GPS Don bought about 4 years ago that no longer can be updated. The program works fine, but the only way to hear the directions while going down the road is to have external speakers. These were only about $12 at Walmart.


Meanwhile, during and after the shopping trips, I did 3 loads of laundry, including the sheets and towels, and together we re-made the bed. Love having clean sheets! Don aired up the tires on the car, as they were all reading low on our Pressure Pro system. It was frustrating because he got them to 32 psi as measured on the tire gauge, but the Pressure Pro was still showing 28 psi.

For dinner tonight, the six of us got together for a ‘burn your own’ BBQ (cook your own meat on an outdoor grill) and potluck at the Forbes’ motorhome. As usual, there were lots of goodies to share and good conversation. After some of us took a walk around the FamCamp, we got together again to review our Alaska TourSaver coupon books and maps and talk about places to go and things to do on our trip. Dennis and Carol are the experienced ones, with 3 previous trips to Alaska under their belts. They had lots of recommendations and ideas for our planning.

The weather wasn’t conducive for traveling today, so it’s a good thing we weren’t on the road. We awoke to a light rain, then it rained harder. Then the wind blew. Then it rained some more, then the wind blew some more. When the front had passed and the wind died, we saw a pretty nice sunset. Not as great as the ones we see in Arizona, but still okay.

Larry took this sunset pic looking toward our site from the left side of his.Larry's sunset

I took this one a little later.DSCN5602

It may be the last good sunset we see for awhile, because we won’t be up late enough to see them in the ‘land of the midnight sun,’ if they happen at all!

Friday, May 6, 2011

Big Sky Country

It was a nice day for travel. Only a little wind, light traffic, gentle hills, and more gorgeous views. We drove about 230 miles, with a fuel stop in Butte (got 9.2 mpg on the last tank—love it!), and a lunch stop in Helena, arriving in Great Falls early in the afternoon.


We were all able to get into the FamCamp at Malmstrom AFB in Great Falls, MT, with grassy sites near each other. Photos will follow tomorrow, as it was too cloudy to get good ones today.

Nobody felt like cooking, so I used my Android phone to find a 5-star rated steakhouse less than 2 miles away. We all piled into the Forbes’ Jeep Liberty and went out for a scrumptious dinner.


If you’re a blog junky, or just want more views of our trip, be sure to add the following blogs to your list, as there are frequent, if not daily, updates: Larry & Marilyn’s blog and Dennis & Carol’s blog. They are experiencing the same thing but have a different perspective, so I’m sure you’ll enjoy reading what they write.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Cinco de Mayo

We’re considering today the first day of our Alaska trip, because we have no other responsibilities, family to visit, rallies to attend, etc. Our focus is simply to point the wheels north and enjoy every day of the adventure. However, I resisted titling this blog “North to Alaska” because we’ve got several days yet before that will really be valid.

Instead, I’m honoring the day we usually have Mexican food in celebration of Cinco de Mayo, the day in 1862 when the Mexican militia defeated the French army and traitor Mexican army at Puebla, Mexico. This day is celebrated more in the U.S. than in Mexico, oddly enough. You can read more about this event by clicking here. I had planned to make guacamole to share with our travel buddies at happy hour, but our delayed arrival (see below) and growling stomachs dictated that supper was more important than hors d’oeuvres. (And I spelled that without checking it!)

We met the Hills and the Forbes this morning at the Flying J in Willard in northern Utah. Don & I had bought fuel at Hill AFB (lowest price for diesel in the area – $4.099), so we parked in the lot and waited for Larry & Marilyn to finish filling their Phaeton.

Larry & Marilyn joined us in the parking lot.DSCN5532

Dennis & Carol pulled in to fuel up.DSCN5531

We formed a caravan with Dennis leading, Larry in the middle of the sandwich, and I was behind the wheel of our rig as tail gunner for the first leg. Don and I traded off driving as we usually do, with me finishing the day.

Views of snow-topped mountains along the way were superb.DSCN5536 

Lots of times, we were the only vehicles visible on the road.DSCN5537

During one of our rest stops, Don presented a gift he bought for Dennis, who has a peculiar and unusual fondness for the color orange.DSCN5539

Dennis, it becomes you – wear it in good health.DSCN5540

We drove about 330 miles north on I-15, from Utah through Idaho into Montana. We had planned to stay at Clarks Canyon Reservoir south of Dillon, MT. However, when we arrived we learned that the campground wasn’t open yet. People who had been fishing told us about a truck stop about 15 miles further north that has RV sites. There was certainly no competition for sites, and we got full hookups for $15. Our spontaneous potluck supper turned out great, and we had fun visiting with our friends.

Marilyn’s finishing the chicken meatloaf, while Larry says something important and Don checks out a place for us to stay tomorrow night.DSCN5546

It’s great to see Carol back in the RV again, after her trips back to Maryland to visit her convalescing Mom.DSCN5547

Our fearless leader, Dennis, probably saying something important.DSCN5548

Dennis and Don getting serious about food.DSCN5549

Marilyn, Larry and Carol balancing conversation and food.DSCN5553

It was a good travel day with perfect weather, and we look forward to another one tomorrow.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

The Wasatch Front

I lived in Sandy, Utah for almost 10 years before becoming a widow and starting a new chapter of my life as a full-time RVer. Today Don and I drove to my old neighborhood and I showed him a few of the places I enjoyed while living here.

I sold the house and moved out in December 2002. The scrub oak trees in front have certainly grown taller during the last 8 years! Below is a view from the north side, which shows the patio on the far right that extends from a walkout basement on the lower level.


The house is being well-maintained and the neighborhood looks great. But I certainly don’t miss all that yard work on 1/2 acre and house cleaning of 3500 sq. ft. on 3 levels! I was thrilled when I put the house on the market in October 2002 and closed escrow two months later, before the first heavy snowfall, so I avoided shoveling/snowblowing that winter! Below is the house’s east-facing front, which shows the main and upper levels. The same mailbox I installed in 1993, after a teenage thrill-seeker knocked down the old one, still houses mail for this family. There’s a rebar post set in concrete inside the mailbox post to protect this one!


This beautiful French-inspired Chateau named La Caille is a wonderful, elegant restaurant 2 miles from my (former) house, located just off Little Cottonwood Canyon Road at the base of towering peaks reaching over 11 thousand ft. in elevation.


La Caille was our first choice when celebrating big events in our lives, and we never tired of going there. Even the grounds, including beautiful gardens, and the doves, llamas and emus were very special. I didn’t see any animals today, so they may have been relocated elsewhere.

The Wasatch Front is a range of mountains that form part of the Rocky Mountains. Major cities along this front are Ogden, Salt Lake City and Provo. Sandy is a southern suburb of Salt Lake City, with over 100,000 population. The mountain range defines the eastern border of this heavily-populated area, where 80% of the state’s residents live. The area is also bordered by Utah Lake in Utah County, the Oquirrh Mountains in Salt Lake County and the Great Salt Lake in northwestern Salt Lake, Davis, Weber and southeastern Box Elder Counties. The combined population of the 5 Wasatch Front Counties totals well over 2 million. The total width of the area is about 18 miles at its widest, and the length is about 80 miles.

Our motorhome is parked at the FamCamp on Hill AFB in Davis County, just south of Ogden, almost 50 miles north of where I lived.


The view of the mountains is just as spectacular.


I don’t remember seeing so much snow on these mountains, especially this late in the year. We heard on the local news that the snowpack this year is larger than when a huge flood occurred from spring runoff in 1983. I sure hope there are no flooding problems when this accumulation melts.

Tomorrow we’ll start our trek northward toward our big adventure in Alaska. We’re meeting up with Dennis and Carol Hill, leaders of the group, and Larry and Marilyn Forbes, fellow Escapees and VCRs, tomorrow morning, ready to point our wheels north. Tonight we had a nice dinner with Larry and Marilyn at the local Red Lobster.


After that dinner, we need to jump on our bicycles and work off a few calories!

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Nevada to Utah

It was a good day to drive about 330 miles from Battle Mountain, NV to Hill AFB, UT north of Salt Lake City. Interstate 80 can be very windy in this area, especially the sections by the Bonneville Salt Flats and the Great Salt Lake. When I lived here in the 1990’s and early 2000’s, there were several incidents when large 18-wheelers (some of which actually have up to 40 wheels) were blown over sideways. We were lucky to have very little wind, light traffic, and no more air pressure alarms! Hurrah!

The photos I got on the road today aren’t great. Too many reflections from windows, too late on the shutter, not in focus, etc. Here are a few of the ones I didn’t discard, with apologies for quality.

I counted 26 wheels on this double-tanker as it passed us.DSCN5486

Two tunnels for tracks, two for roads.DSCN5488

The Humboldt River is about as long as the distance we drove today: 330 miles. It has no outlet to the ocean, and is the 4th largest river of that type in the U.S. Interstate 80 roughly follows the route of this river across northern Nevada. For more info, go the Wikipedia entry.


We’re almost never away from work zones on roads, and today was no exception. Note the heavy snow pack on mountains in the distance.DSCN5496

Besides having a good driving day, we accomplished another task. Don got his new glasses changed at LensCrafters in Ogden. They have a wonderful guarantee policy: If you don’t like anything you can get it changed within 90 days. He’s ecstatic over being able to see better at a distance, close up and the mid-range where his computer and the dashboard lie, using the no-line bifocals aka progressive lenses. For a first-time glasses wearer, he has adjusted quickly. He says the new frames are lighter and more comfortable, and I think they look better on him, too. What do you think?





Monday, May 2, 2011

Sugar Barge Visit, Back on the Road

It’s hard to believe it’s already May! There are lots of ways to celebrate May Day, and I always remember dressing in pastel colors and taking part in the weaving of a May Pole as a young girl. This year we used the day to catch up with some wonderful friends.

We wish we could have taken our motorhome to the lovely Sugar Barge RV Resort and stayed a few days, but circumstances prevented it. We had to be content with just a visit in our car, and lunch with Larry and Carol Jennings.

I’m sure Carol was listening to another one of Don’s stories!DSCN5450

Sugar Barge is located in the Sacramento Delta, on Bethel Island in Contra Costa County. It was such a pretty day and the water looked so inviting, we wished we had time (and the paddles, still in the motorhome) to go kayaking. Ah, well, that will have to go on our list for another time.

Carol gave us a brief tour of the park and marina.IMAG0156

One of the docks at the Sugar Barge Marina.IMAG0154

Restaurant and boat house at Sugar Barge.IMAG0157

Carol and Larry’s site at the resort.IMAG0160

Larry and Carol have a house at Escapees’ Rainbow’s End in Livingston, TX. But they travel for several months every year in their truck and Big Foot camper, towing a Honda CR-V similar to ours. They are quite comfortable in this diminutive RV, and love the freedom it gives them. Check out Carol’s blog RVers in a Shoebox to learn more about their travels and adventures.

The Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta, formed by the confluence of those two rivers, is also known as the California Delta. The total area is around 1100 square miles and includes some 700 miles of waterways. The delta was originally marshland, and most of it has been made usable by hundreds of miles of levees built by Chinese laborers in the late nineteenth century. This made it possible to drain the land and create farmland. Click the link above to read more about the construction and history of this fascinating area.

Map of the Sacramento-San Juaquin River Delta.image

Today, May 2, we began our journey toward the Salt Lake City area. We originally planned to take 3 days to drive the 720 miles. But we pushed on today and drove about 380 miles from Lodi, CA to Battle Mountain, NV. We’re staying at an RV park attached to the Flying J station. There are lots of run-down RVs that probably haven’t seen the road in many years. Several have make-shift insulation creating a skirt around the lower edges, and there’s no control over how much ‘junk’ is left outside on their sites. We’ve probably stayed in worse places, but I can’t remember where! The price is not too bad – $27 – and we managed to get 50-amp service out of two 30-amp outlets by using a device I bought at a rally last year. Don remembered it and took it out of the package for the first time.

Weather was great, traffic was light, and we only had one small mechanical problem. We’ve had an alarm for low air pressure that started twice before, but today it came on twice within a few minutes. I was driving in the Sierra Nevada mountains east of Sacramento, and it was a little scary. Fortunately, I was able to pull into a rest area, and Don called our friend Dennis Hill (see below), who used to own a Phaeton similar to ours, teaches a class at RV rallies where he covers testing air brakes, and has lots of experience with big rigs. He had Don run a test on the brakes, and everything seemed fine. We think the test may have actually cleared the problem, because we didn’t experience it again. Just to gain some peace of mind we stopped at the Freightliner shop in Sparks, NV to have it checked. But Bryan, the tech in the Service Dept, said if we hadn’t had any more leaks of air pressure, there was nothing he could service. We drove on the rest of the day with no further problems.

The mountains were still wearing a cloak of white left over from the winter storms. It was pretty, but we were glad there was no precip or white stuff on the road.



In the photo below, you can see one of the many train tunnels, built to protect railroad tracks from getting clogged by snow, especially in inaccessible locations.


Tomorrow we have about 330 miles to drive to Hill AFB north of Salt Lake, to stay at the FamCamp. There we’ll join Larry and Marilyn Forbes, currently staying at the Elks Lodge in Bountiful, and we hope to sponsor them into the FamCamp. Dennis and Carol Hill, owners of RV Driving School and close friends (they stood up for us when we got married) will arrive Wed or Thurs. Dennis writes a frequent blog (click the link) and posts great photos, especially when using his ‘whale lens’ to get close-ups of wildlife. I’m sure he’ll be capturing some wonderful shots on the trip. These are two of the four couples we’re going with to Alaska. We’ll meet the other two in Dawson Creek, BC on or before May 16, if we don’t run into them somewhere on the road.

Anyway, it’s great to be back on the road again. We’re getting very excited about the big adventures ahead of us! Stay tuned, and we’ll try to share the fun through photos and reports on this blog.