Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Day 13 - Devil's Tower, WY to Billings, MT

We woke up to another beautiful day in Wyoming and it was Greg's birthday.  Happy birthday, Old Man!  We tidied up camp, packed things up, and got on the road by around 11am.  Greg had some work to do so he wanted to get some of it done while we were still in free wifi land.  We got on the road to drive back to I-90 and up to Billings.

The mountains around Yellowstone

This route was actually a schedule change.  There were two reasons.  First, we really wanted to see the Little Big Horn National Monument.  Greg and Gage were fascinated and wanted to see it.  The other reason was that we'd been warned that the Little Bighorn Mountains have some intense passes in them.  We've been babying the FMC's transmission so it didn't take much convincing for us to decide to go around the mountains instead of through them. It didn't take much convincing for me to drive through Montana. It's where I was born and I haven't been back since I was 3. It felt pretty cool to drive into my home state even though, as an Air Force Brat, I don't really have a "home" in that way.

Little Bighorn National Monument is a sobering place.  The Park Service has done a good job, in my opinion, in not belittling either side in telling the story of the battle.  I grew up hearing that Custer was a hero and then later a fool.  After being at the monument, I think both are true.  He was a good general but he underestimated his enemy and they all paid the price.  The monument has a visitor's center where we watched a film and the kids did the Junior Ranger program.  We learned a lot there.  Then we did the drive.  You drive out 5 miles along the battlefield.  There are markers that explain what happened at different points and somehow seeing the grounds really helped me to understand what happened there and why certain things happened.  Most poignently, there are also white and red stone monuments that mark where soldiers and indians died.  In certain areas, you read that a particular plan failed and then you look down at the valley and see 25 white markers.  It brings it all home in a very real way.

We were running a bit behind our schedule after this stop.  We wanted to have a nice dinner in Billings for Greg's birthday before settling in at our Walmart parking spot for the night.   I had researched restaurants in Billings on the internet and hadn't been too impressed -- I'm sure there are great restaurants but they weren't reviewed online.  The one that came up with glowing reviews over and over again was Famous Dave's BBQ so that was where we went.  Greg loves him some BBQ.  It was fantastic.  Ruth, our picky eater, decided she loved ribs and we all feasted.  We took home plenty of leftovers for lunches in upcoming days.

We had read online that Billings doesn't allow overnight stays at their Walmarts so we opted for the safest decision and went further down I-90 to the town of Laurel.  A couple of commenters on a Free Camping site had recommended it.  Personally, I think the should also have mentioned that it was *right* next door to a train station and an oil refinery.  It was a LOVELY night.  Ahem.

Monday, June 28, 2010

Day 12 - Hill City, SD to Devil's Tower, WY

We had an easy and pretty drive to Devil's Tower.  We drove through the historic town of Deadwood.  We thought about stopping but with a motorhome and tow vehicle, it just wasn't easy so we kept moving.  We drove up I-90 and then cut across to go through the town of Sundance, WY on our way to Devil's Tower.  What a beautiful drive!

Devil's Tower

Greg had work to do so after we got settled in at the Devil's Tower KOA (which is at the base of the tower), the kids and I drove up to the tower, did the Junior Ranger thing, and went on a mile long hike around the base of the Tower.  It is so beautiful there.  The Tower is amazing . . . you are definitely filled with awe when you look at it.  While the kids worked on their Jr. Ranger booklets, I sat in front of the Visitor's Center and just stared up at it.

Done!  Official Jr. Rangers!

When we got back, the kids did the playground thing while Greg and I wrangled dinner.  The Devil's Tower KOA shows Close Encounters of the Third Kind every night around 9pm.  We all bundled up in blankets and watched it.  Really fun to watch that movie, knowing the actual tower was looming over us.

Next stop ... Billings, MT.

Day 11 - Mount Rushmore

We headed out to see the sights around Hill City today.   We started by leaving Hill City and driving to Custer State Park.  It's a beautiful park.  It has an amazing road that enters the park called Needles Highway - it goes through some amazing rock formations with these tiny one lane tunnels.  Another time to be really glad you are towing a car and not trying to do it all in your motorhome.

Once we got in the park, we decided to do the Wildlife Loop.  The paperwork we were handed at the gate promised us all sorts of animals and wow, did it ever deliver.  We saw deer, coyote, bison, wild burros, pronghorn, and lots of birds.  Did I mention the bison?

Shaggy as a buffalo

From there, we took the Iron Mountain Highway to Mount Rushmore.  Iron Mountain seems simply designed to be fun.  It's got what they call the "Tunnel Run" so that as you approach Mt. Rushmore, you drive through tunnels and see it framed in front of you.  Furthermore, there are these road looping bridges that don't seem to serve a purpose other than having a blast. Definitely another I'm so glad I have a tow vehicle drive.


Mount Rushmore was just very cool and inspirational.  Gage did the Junior Ranger program.  We learned a lot about the history and lots of technical stuff about how Mt. Rushmore was built.

Getting sworn in

We headed back to our campsite and gathered a few items like water bottles, snacks, sunscreen, and our lightweight backpack.  Then I drove Greg and the kids to the Crazy Horse Memorial.  There was a thunderstorm coming in so we saved the actual memorial for another visit (!) and got the bikes down off the Suzuki and Greg and the kids took off on the Mickelson Trail. This is a hike/bike trail that runs 150 miles through the Black Hills on an old railbed.  They took out all the rails and ties and reworked the bridges.  They rode 7 miles (mostly downhill) and returned to our campsite just about the time I got there with fresh groceries!  They were tired but very happy!

Riding from Crazy Horse to Hill City

Friday, June 25, 2010

Day 10 Badlands to Hill City, SD


We woke up to a lovely day in the Badlands.  We left the FMC in our campsite and took off in the Suzuki. We toured the visitor's center and headed off on a drive.  We drove to the brand new Minuteman National Monument just about 30 minutes from Badlands.  The kids became Jr. Rangers there!  We then headed up to Wall Drug on I-90.  We had lunch and bought a few things.  Then we headed back into the Badlands.  We drove out a great dirt road and saw our first  Bison near a prairie dog town.  While there, a couple told us about another herd that was near a pullout on the road where you could walk down closer to them and get a better view.   They really are amazingly large creatures.  What a presence!

Minuteman Missle NHS Jr Rangers with Ranger

We then made our way back -- through some of the most beautiful country.  As we drove, we kept our eyes peeled for Big Horn Sheep.  We ended up seeing TWO of them.  I was so excited about it!

Big Horn Sheep #2

Prairie Dogs

American Bison!!!

708 in the Badlands!

We headed back to the campsite and then packed up the FMC and headed off down Highway 44 for Rapid City.  It was a beautiful byway except for one thing . . . it was under construction for 14 grueling miles.  And, when I say under construction, I mean they tore the entire road bed up and we were driving on compacted dirt for much of the time.  Yikes!

We pulled into Hill City and settled in at the Creekside Mountain Resort.  It was a nice park but we didn't love it.  They charged extra for the kids (which I find rude) and had no facilities like restrooms, showers, or wifi.  We'll be here two days and make the best of it.  Another thunderstorm was coming in so we hightailed it into Hill City for a good dinner at the Bumpin' Buffalo.

Rainbow during thunderstorm

Day 9 Valentine NE to Badlands National Park, SD

(This is days late due to being exceptionally busy, overly tired, and having intermittent and weak internet access!)


We woke up at this wonderful campground in Valentine, NE. It was a beautiful morning. I wandered around taking pictures of birds before making Greg his father's day breakfast of pancakes and bacon.

Rainbow during thunderstorm at Badlands National Park

Then we zoomed off . . . headed for Badlands National Park in South Dakota. It was a long drive but we got there early enough to get a gorgeous campsite. We set up camp and heard stories about the storm that we'd watched from Nebraska . . . it was a bad one! We drove around and looked at and climbed on some of the badlands themselves. They don't protect this park in the same way they do other parks. There is so much erosion from water and wind each year that the human damage is minute so they don't limit where you go in the park. It's very unusual but works in this situation.

After dinner, we went to a nighttime presentation on stars. We did see some but unfortunately, the clouds rolled in before we got to use telescopes to do some serious star gazing.

After the storm, Badlands National Park

Millers at Badlands

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Day 8 - Minden, NE to Valentine, NE

At 6:25 this morning, I woke up to a strong wind rocking the motorhome.  When I opened my eyes, I realized that the sky was orange.  If you've ever been in REAL thunderstorms (ie. not California versions of thunderstorms), you'd know that the light and the color of the sky can be really, really odd!  So, I woke up Greg and got the kids out of the tent.  We collapsed the tent and our EZ-Up, pulled in all the loose debris of camping with kids, and waited out the storm.  Thankfully, it skirted around us and was moving fast.  There was a lot of lightning and thunder but nothing too close.  What a way to start the day, though.  Nebraska has had record rains this year and many parts of the state are flooded.  Thankfully, this storm didn't do too much to add to the problems.


Some of the mid-westerners sort of sneered at our reaction to the storm.  Personally, I think making sure my belongings didn't spread themselves all  over town and that my kids weren't outside during a lightning storm just makes sense.  It wasn't as if we screamed and ran around yelling about the sky falling. But, then again, how would they handle a little 5.0 earthquake . . .

After breakfast, I went into town to  laundry and dishes while Greg finished fixing the motorhome.  When I got back, he was done and ready to pack up.  We got all loaded up and organized and walked back for one more visit to Pioneer Village.  I wasn't up to much  walking around so I planted myself under a tree at a picnic table with my Kindle.  It was glorious.  When Greg and the kids were done, we had ice cream at the snack bar and then hit the road for northern Nebraska.

Greg and I really prefer to travel on small by-ways rather than main highways.  Due to our time constraints, we'd really hustled on our way over so I-80 was the best bet.  Today, we were only on 80 for less than a half-hour.  We headed up 183 to 2 and then to 83.


It was a great drive.  We loved the small towns we drove though . . . Broken Bow and Valentine in particular were great towns.  We chose our route so that we could drive through the Valentine National Wildlife Refuge.  It was so beautiful  - full of wetlands and birds.  Well worth the choice of this route.

Remember the flooding, I mentioned? This was on 83 . . . it was a little alarming to drive into . . . even while watching the truck ahead of us successfully drive through.

Through sheer dumb luck, we ended up at an amazing campground. Fishberry Campground is amazing! Beautiful, new facilities. Free WiFi. Clean, functional bathrooms. And a gorgeous view. . .


Friday, June 18, 2010

Day 7 - Minden, NE

We spent another day in the midwest . . . it was a very hot, miserable night.  We woke up to beautiful, cool morning that promised rain.  It never delivered and by 1pm, we had the kids back at the pool for the day.  There was a lot of picture taking of lots of FMCs -- this involved moving coaches backwards and fowards and lots of coordination and organization by too many "cooks."  Still,   in the end, we had some great shots!

Greg did some major repairs.  We continue to be amazed by the kindness and hospitality of this little town.  The auto parts guy thanked Greg for letting him order belts for him.  I chatted with a woman at the pool who invited us to come out to their baseball game tonight.  We made the newspaper and a special on the TV news.  Everyone is as kind as can be!

I can't believe the rally is over and we'll be leaving so many great, new friends.  I know we'll be back!

One of the attendees brought his sons out from Norway.  He bought an FMC 4 years ago, shipped it to Norway and fixed it up.  He did a presentation tonight of all the work he's done so far.  It's pretty amazing!

Our evening is hot and muggy tonight with no breeze. I think we'll be running the air conditioner tonight.  I wonder if we'll get the thunderstorm that keeps threatening to arrive!

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Day 6, Minden, NE

We spent a warm but breezy night in Minden and woke up to a beautiful day with no breeze . . . just the promise of heat!

The FMC Owners Club organized a couple of seminars for us through the Minden Chamber of Commerce.  It was really great.  They got a nurse practitioner to come and speak about Basic First Aid and CPR with a bent toward situations that might come up while we're traveling.  They also had the guy that manages the fleet of school buses for the local school district.  He arrived in a school bus which certainly got everyone's attention.  I, evilly, told the kids that in Nebraska, they pick kids up at campgrounds to go school . . . even in the summer! The seminars were fascinating and I think everyone learned something.  It was pretty cool!

Afterward, we went to the smorgasbord at the Pioneer Village  .  It was, well, a meal.  The Millers headed over to the Pioneer Village museum then.  We spent several hours touring the museum and buildings before the heat did us in.  We'll have to come back for another couple of hours tomorrow.  The Chamber of Commerce arranged passes for us to the museum as well as discounts at the local city pool.  A group of us moms took the kids over to the pool for the afternoon.  The kids LOVED it. The men hung around the campsite talking about their FMCs and discussing how to fix all their problems and how to make them all perfect!

I'm looking out now at a huge group of folks sharing cocktails and conversation.  Here is a link to a bunch of pictures of the day.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Day 5 (Sidney, NE to Minden, NE)

Cabela's Campground, Sidney, NE

We woke up to a beautiful mid-west morning.  It was humid and warm but lovely.   I took a walk and saw some birds and an adorable little bunny!  I then came back to wake up my family so we could go have breakfast with Harry and Sandy and then head over to Cabela's for a little shopping!


About an hour away from Cabela's, we picked up Eric at the airport.  He couldn't drive his FMC out so he flew in.  He's a great guy -- he even brought us a part for our air conditioner!  I'm telling you, FMC people are the best!!!


This is a HUGE arch that crosses I-80 shortly before we turn off to go to Minden.  It was most impressive.  Since we were in a hurry, we didn't stop to figure out WHY they built an arch over I-80!

We pulled into the campground in Minden, NE.  It's part of an attraction called Pioneer Village.  My first impression is that this place has seen better days.  Still, we have power and shade and the people are wonderful!  Lots of kids -- ours have been running wild with them.  Lots of good conversation.  We got set up and sat down with a cold beer and felt so much better!  We've arrived and we're staying put for a few days!  Hurrah!

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

What a day . . . (4)

We woke up this morning at a truck stop in Laramie, WY.  I have to say, first of all, that truck stops like Flying J and Pilot and Petro (we stayed at the Petro) are really nice and full of amenities for the traveler.  We were really grateful for this since we woke up early, tossed the kids out of their bunks to sleep on our bed, and started the motorhome to head off to Cheyenne and meet up with our group.

Well, that was the plan.  Thing was . . . the motorhome wouldn't start.  Oh boy.  So, we started fiddling, sure that at any minute, we'd solve the problem and be on our way.

No such luck.


Thankfully, we have made some amazingly good friends in this crowd of people who love FMCs as much as we do.  So, when we called the group to say that they shouldn't wait for us, one of them said they were on their way.  And, they came and joined us . . . drove an hour out of their way to join us in Laramie and spent 6 hours diagnosing and fixing our FMC.  Amazing people.


Still, what a day.  They solved an electrical problem that was preventing a spark, put in a new fuel pump and filter, and replaced a broken fanbelt which gave us back power steering.  When we were done and the motorhome started up, we cheered and got on the road.   We stopped for the night at  Cabela's World Headquarters in Sidney, Nebraska.  They have an RV park there so we are hooked up with electricity (charging all our electronics that we can't function without) and showered and ate some non-fast food and we'll sleep well tonight.

Camping at Cabela's World Headquarters

In the morning, we're going to shop at Cabela's, possibly get the motorhome washed, and head on down the road.  We'll pick up another FMC guy at the airport in North Platte and continue on our way to Minden, NE and the rest of our group.

What a long, strange trip it's been . . . and, folks, we're just getting started!

Day 3

Salt Lake City to Cheyenne. Well, that was the plan. The drive was spectacular out of SLC (and Liza got to shop at Kohls & IKEA before we left town). Liza saw a Sandhill Crane outside Park City which was exciting! Had lunch in Wyoming and started having issues. Fanbets are not our friends. We limped our way across the state -- enjoying the beauty and wildlife but not the lack of an alternator or power steering. At 11pm, we called it a night outside of Laramie. We planned to wake up fresh and push through to Cheyenne where a whole passel of FMC owners are waiting to convoy into Minden, NE.

Best laid plans. Greg us currently diagnosing why the motor won't turnover. Lots of telephone advice and support from Cheyenne -- we will prevail!

Still, there are worse views to wake up to . . .

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Day Two

10:00 - driving thru Fernley, NV.

11:30 - Gas pedal stopped working outside Lovelock, NV (ie middle of no-freakin-where). Fixed it with safety pin! It's official ... We're running on bailing wire!
4:30pm - got gas in Wells, NV. Motorhome refused to start. Talked to Stephen while fiddling with wires & now it's running fine!

7pm - crossed into Utah & mountain time. So now it's 8pm!

10pm - pulling into SLC after a crazy long drive across the salt flats (really? 100 miles?) FMC is purring like a kitten. Tomorrow, we're shopping before we leave town - Camping World, Kohl's, & IKEA! Then we are heading off to Cheyenne!

Reno, NV

Our first night out was spent at the Grand Sierra Resort in Reno, NV. This resort used to be the MGM Grand. It's nice for a city parking lot campground. We had site 157 which is overlooking the "lake" (a huge cement pond). You will hear airplanes fly over, the white noise of the freeways, and trains in the night with long moarnful whistles. However, Nature will out. You'll also hear lots of bird song!

Liza's parents drove up from June Lake and had dinner with us. We ended up choosing the buffet at the Resort -- it was great! Everyone ate great food! And the kids were delighted by the choices! Between the crab and shrimp, the spectacular prime rib, the taco bar, and fried chicken ... There was something for ever taste. And the chocolate cake was the best I've ever had.

Today we have our longest day of the trip -- about 10 hrs on the road will see us in Salt Lake City & a Camping World parking lot!

Saturday, June 12, 2010

We're on our way!

We got under way late which should surprise no one who knows us. We had breakfast and were on Hwy 17 by 10:30. We'd already been delayed by someone admiring our rig!

We'll be later than we wanted getting into Reno but right now we're between Davis & Sacrmento and we can see the snow-capped Sierras.

And we're off . . .

We got our housesitter/petsitter all set. Alerted the neighbors. Loaded the motorhome. And headed off into the sunrise . . . next stop, Reno!

Friday, June 11, 2010

Really? This is vacation weather?

In anticipation of our vacation, I added the weather for Minden, NE to my iGoogle page.  I usually do this when we are going camping somewhere.  It builds my anticipation for the visit.

However . . .

It's rained there almost everyday since I've been tracking the weather there.  We just ended the longest winter I can remember here.  It rained right through the end of May.  At least those temperatures are coming down some . . . 89F and raining.  Wow.

Still . . . there's that old saying about the worst day fishing is better than the best day working. It holds true for camping, too!

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Embrace the orange

My that's orange!

I think I've mentioned that orange is NOT my favorite color.  If I'd had a choice in color for our FMC, I'd have picked "not orange."  :)  But, the best one at the best time for the best price was . . . orange.

For a long time, we planned to change it.  We always intended to redo the interior but now . . . I don't know if it's everyone's comments about how retro and cool the color is or if I've just been worn down but I have a new motto.

Embrace the orange.

We got new towels for our big trip.  Wow, now, that is orange!

Sunday, June 6, 2010

The big summer trip

Map for our Nebraska Trip, Summer 2010

This trip was conceived around the campfire at our last FMC rally.  Having a destination . . . Minden, Nebraska and the big FMC rally was the impetus to get us moving to make it happen.  We've been trying to do a long summer trip for 3 years now and finally . . . we're doing it.  Planning, working, purchasing, repairing, promising, and finally blogging.

Watch this space for more info . . . T minus 5 days and counting.