Thursday, May 17, 2018

The Badlands, Black Hills, and beyond......






Any trip takes planning, unless you're a fly by the seat of your pants type person, which I am not.  Our last big outing of four weeks last Autumn was too long but you don't know until you do.  While running a business, we realized that three weeks would be the max.

This trip will be three but we would try something that we have not done to this point.

Boondocking.

We had everything designed in our trailer to be able to do just that.  Only, we haven't done it yet.  On board water, check.  Battery bank, check.  Holding tank, check.  Propane heater, check.

Doing it....... not checked, yet......

I've found as we have traversed this Great Land, especially starting in the Midwest, there's a great deal of driving just to get somewhere scenic. Don't get me wrong, The Great Plains have their own beauty but we have experienced the PUSH to get to where we are going.  Since then, we have been kinder to ourselves, shortening our driving times from point "A" to point "B"  but this lengthens the days to get there and back.  When you finally arrive, not all the campgrounds are conveniently located, or desirable, or well lit, or clean, or well, you get the picture. I'm picky. We have also driven through weather we should have pulled over and waited for it to pass.

This all ties into the notion of Boondocking.  

Simply pulling off somewhere for the night.  Not camping, just sleeping and moving on.  We had all of this modern technology put into our 1954 Boles Aero so we could do just that.  But now would we have the courage?  ( I do have the feeling that after we do it once, we will be ok with it ) Let's just hope the first time is a good experience or.......

The ubiquitous Walmart parking lot comes to mind but there are a whole host of options some more palatable than others.  Flying J Truck Stop, Love's Truck Stop, Rest Areas, Home Depot, BLM land, and on and on.  Who knows, we might find something else! 

Some might say, "Oh! That's not safe!"  Well, they haven't seen some of the campgrounds we have come across...  Again, I'm thinking of hop, skip, jump as three days will usually get you out of The Great Plains to somewhere a tad bit better.

I always plot a trip on a calendar, with all the dates and confirmations in place.  All estimated drive times highlighted.  This trip, however, has holes in it.  Nights we will squat, or Boondock, are sprinkled through out the journey.  I do have a list of back up campgrounds, just in case.....  I did realize, for us, that one overnight roughly equals the cost of one tank of gas..... 

This could be good.

Prior to our departure, it was time for the first brake service since we renovated the trailer.  10K miles had past and when they were pulled, we found they had an oil leak on one side and the brake shoes were worn down to the nubs.  If any of you remember the big fire at Yellowstone National Park several years ago, it was set unknowingly by a brake fire.  These people traveled a long way unknowingly sprouting grass fires as they went.  Do not tow some vintage trailer that has sat for decades on the bearings that can be fused.  It is very possible to set fire to your new find!  Have it checked out before you tow by someone who knows.

Buddy at Liberty Trailer is my guy that knows and he had us fixed up in a few hours and we were on our way.

Now, for the final repair on the drain pipe that runs under the shower pan.  I did not design, nor was I told, about this until it was a done deal by the first shop we went to.  Stupid.  Stooooooo pid!  Who would ever put a drain in and build over it where it could never be serviced without tearing out essential items? AS IN THE SHOWER PAN! The same people who put in our propane furnace on it's side because and I quote, "Well.... it came out of the box that way."  I am not kidding.

So, the day came for Ron to work on the trailer and finally fix what could not be done by two trailer shops on three separate occasions.  He called me earlier in the week, "Do you really think this is going to work?"   I responded, "It has to, there's no other option!"

We tore into that sucker expecting to find the source of the problem which did not present itself in the usual manner, as in, "Oh!  There's the leak!"  Nope.  That trickle could have come from anywhere but we had corralled it in a very small section.

What to do ?

The solution was to glue all the joints from the inside since it would have been a real problem trying to tear it all out.  After rinsing, and rinsing, and rinsing some more, and using a bowl brush with 91% Isopropyl Alcohol, then drying said pipe's interior.  This is the poop chute to the holding tank and the leak was thankfully somewhere above the tank.

BUT

Pardon me while I have a blood boiling moment.....

It was discovered, as in the drains from the bathroom sink, there was a section of drain pipe with a built in smaller fitting to receive a 1 1/2" drain into the vertical column pipe from the toilet.

Did you follow that?  I barely did.

Suffice to say, there is a curve in this section to assist the flow of water downward through the pipe fitting.  That is, unless you install it upside down.  This creates a little dam that always holds a little water in the pipe. Then if you have a leak, then it's trickle, trickle, trickle and it stops.  Difficult to diagnose and locate.

The joining fitting was upside down, just like it was in the bathroom under the sink in an earlier leak search.  Oh, and you guessed it, done by the same people!

And just like under the sink, I knew the joints had not been glued properly all the way around.

Ponder it, I did, madder than spit.

Ron made a dobber out of a small piece of Romex with paper towels wound and taped around the end so that I could venture into the cave system that was the tunnel to Poop Town armed only with goop on the end of a makeshift stick.

Yep. Dainty me!

Ron did one coat, which had to dry, and then I did the several remaining coats until I ran out of goop.

This just had to work.....

The toilet went back in with a new flange that had a descending neck with a rubber seal.  Oh that should be better.... 

It wasn't!

We got it all hooked up and filled the tank up the poop chute and to the toilet. Water, thankfully only water, came gushing out of the base of the toilet.

Guess the rubber seal didn't work...

The next day the toilet came out and Ron had brought two flanges to play with and the glue in one was chosen. Toilet back in and tested in the same way as before.

IT WORKED!  NO LEAKS AT ALL!

And yes, I did have to cut through the shower pan to access the pipes beneath it and patch it back together with a pvc repair kit.  I Dremmeled myself to a fair thee well as I was crouched on my forearms, posterior elevated, and eyes focused on the task at hand, grinding the excess material flat.  Then, coating it with paint made for plastic, it was finished.

I'm very proud to say that Ron was impressed!

That toilet went in and out a total of seven times since we started work on this trailer.  I told Ron, every time I used this bathroom, I would think of him.  I believe he really appreciated it... :)

Just like with our Shasta, there were a number of outings with problems, but slowly and surely we ran all of them down until there were none.  I think we are really close to doing that with this trailer!

We had worked like indentured servants getting ready to leave and we were taking an ice show wardrobe project with us.  In the back of the truck was a sewing machine, material, flowers, and Austrian Crystals galore!


Departing on a clear blue spring day was delightful and our first stop was in Branson, MO.  We parked at Table Rock Lake State Park.  No power or water so that we could test our systems.  Yes, we could have tested it all in the driveway at home, but we wanted a real life test with changing scenarios just to be sure. The propane furnace worked great, almost too well, having to turn that sucker off when going to bed.  But before that, we went downtown to the old 5 & 10 store, my favorite spot in Branson, MO.



 We had tickets that evening for The Acrobats of China which was a wonderful show!
 


Next stop was Kansas City.  The boondocking stop!  I will share with you, I received a ton of flack about how this WAS NOT boondocking.

True.

But this was the very first time we stopped ANYWHERE without being in a campground.  The die hards will tell you that boondocking is being out in the wilderness off grid and vehemently not paying for it.  Extolling the virtues of starry nights, privacy, and quietness.  Well, we had none of that.





I had charted the Isle of Capri Casino as being right next to the freeway and on our way through the city.  We arrived mid afternoon and sewed a while on our costume project. 



The sun set and we decided to walk to the casino for dinner near 8pm.  The parking lot, which we shared with about two dozen truckers, was covered in goose droppings....

OMEN 

We were happily greeted at the fake riverboat casino and we were cheerily directed to the dining room arriving exactly at 8:02 pm to find this fine establishment had closed at 8pm.  Shocked as we were to see the restaurant closing so early, the head waitress took pity on us and ran to the kitchen and said we could have dinner.  

How to describe the cuisine..... 

Everything on the menu was smoked.  Because, with every bite of coconut shrimp, you ingested just enough smoke from the air to make it taste that way.

Uh huh.  

I'm not accustomed to eating in an ash tray.  Dave had ordered a personal size brick fired pizza and when it arrived was the size of the Rings Of Saturn and looked as though is was made of petroleum products.  Not wanting to offend our waitress, we took it to go and gave it residence in the nearest trash can we could find.  I wasn't about to feed it to the geese.  It would have be re-engineered into something far worse than what we found in the parking lot, that of which I am certain.

We won't be doing this again.  Period.  At least not at a casino.

We slept a fitful night replete with train horns, vibration, idling 18 wheelers, and the pungent smell of goose droppings. We were off in a hurry the next morning. Finding ourselves in need of gas, I pulled up my Gas Buddy App to find the nearest station.  I have learned there is no filter on this APP for the quality of an area for the location of said station.  The neighborhood looked dicey..... we pulled in and just as we were about to go into our routine, which is well choreographed by now, Dave at the pump and me walking Lucy and cleaning the windshield....... a fried out car pulls in with what could be described as two rejects from Miss Astor's Finishing School.....

Convicts.  That's what they looked like, convicts.

And they were giving us the EYE!

I looked at Dave and said, "Nope."

We pulled out and moved on.  Better safe than sorry and I'm too old now to worry about offending people I don't know.

Next stop was Omaha, NE which was supposed to be another Casino parking lot.  Nope to that, too.  I scrambled the Internet and found a city park campground near the Missouri River.  It was a whole lot better than the goose poop concrete jungle!  Some dear friends came to see us and we showed off the trailer, had a good visit, and started out the day through Iowa and up to Sioux Falls, SD



Not the prettiest time of year to be there.  No plowed fields, no corn silk or sunflowers, but in scheduling this sojourn I was keenly aware of the weather.  There had been a blizzard with 19" of wet snow across the entirety of South Dakota the week prior when *I THOUGHT* we should be there until I couldn't find campgrounds open.  Now I know why.  A week later, when we arrived, there was still snow on the ground.

   
The roads were clear and dry so we were not concerned and by the time we arrived at the Black Hills the snow was gone and temps moderated back to Spring.

We took in the roadside kitsch while traversing South Dakota.  Lots of bill boards and tourist traps but it was all part of the fun.  A road side statuary garden and a lovely sculpture of Sacajawea, The Corn Palace, Al's Oasis, and Wall Drug....







This was a peaceful drive on straight smooth freeway.  We spent the night in a small campground somewhere in the middle of South Dakota which, just like the rest of South Dakota, we had seen and would continue to see until we reached The Badlands.  There was only one other camper in the park besides the caretaker's that were there to open the attending motel for the season.  I called ahead and made a reservation but I was told we may not have water because of the cold.  That was no problem.  There was a problem when we arrived, the elderly lady had not written it down and asked me what the rate was she had told me.  I didn't want to traipse back out to the truck and retrieve what I had written down and into the growing WIND of the day as I was tired.  She warbled, "Well, how about twenty five dollars ?"  I said ok. She fingered the keyboard, "Looks like it's twenty eight fifty......WAIT nope, it's thirty two..... is that ok?"  "Yes", I proffered but my internal dialogue ran something like this, "I should sign now before this auction gets out of hand...."  Then the interrogation began, where were we from? where are we going? what are we towing? have you eaten yet? etc etc when all I wanted to do was get out of there.  Turns out they were full timers and their work camp job was to follow the spring north cleaning and opening motels as they went.  I mused, this couple was old, like late 80's early 90's old surprising me they had the energy to drive let alone cleaning and opening lodgings.  They are out there and I may turn into one of them with my oxygen hooked up while driving down the highway of life.  I have seen it!

The next day found us at The Badlands.  Now, I had read a review of this park a while ago that said it was awful, drive by it, don't waste your time.  I don't know who that was but they must have had a burr under their saddle because we found it to be an utterly fascinating landscape.  Everywhere we looked was a scene from Star Wars!
















We left The Badlands and weather was moving toward us from the west.  As the rain passed, the sun dropped below the cloud deck and I knew there would be a spectacular rainbow so, I told Dave to pull over on the shoulder.  I hopped out and was immediately pelted with bumble bee size rain drops but I did not care because I got this picture!

 

We lodged the next two nights at The Hart Ranch near Custer State Park.  The next day the wind HOWLED which exacerbated the cold that blew in with it so, we decided to stay in and sew on my costume since day after was supposed to be glorious..... and it was.

Off to Mt. Rushmore we flew the next morning, it was truly a beautiful day.  We had lunch at a wonderful German Restaurant, tooling around as we were through the mountain tops on The Needles Highway and beyond.  We toured the Crazy Horse Memorial and took in The Jewel Cave.  It was a full day!


















As much as we hated to leave, it was time to depart for Wyoming.  






Eastern Wyoming is prairie, no cell service, no gas, and few towns but we managed.  We very nearly lost our trailer and possibly our lives dealing with some Bozo hauling a portable office with no escort "wide load" crew and almost opened us up like a can of pork and beans while PASSING US.  We were going the speed limit. 

Not kidding.




The next day took us into Colorado.  We had wanted to see The Molly Brown House for years and we hoped to finally see it on this trip.

But.

We were towing a trailer and knew better than attempt downtown Denver with it in behind.  I called several campgrounds on the perimeter of the city.  Some were full, some dicey, and one that was a 20 minute straight line to Miss Unsinkable's digs.  We paid for the night but only dropped our trailer for about 4 hours.  Such are the compromises of the road.  We loved the house, home tours are among my favorite things to do.






It was very difficult to get out of the city once we got in.  The streets are narrow and allow parking on both sides which gives one lane for traffic.  Add a fire engine, sirens blaring, a head on vehicle, and the result was us backing up two city blocks.  After which we turned the wrong way and got stuck in traffic backed up from teachers on foot picketing the state capitol, no doubt protesting arming teachers in the classroom.  We finally turned down an alley and negotiated the crazy one way and stopping streets to find an exit corridor to our freedom!

We hooked up and headed over the Continental Divide.  

This is a test,  A test of the emergency broadcast system.  This is only a test.....

We had not tested this trailer at an extended uphill grade like you see in The Rockies.  Maintaining a 40mph climb was just enough to be able to pass the 18 wheelers going 30 and we did well.  The only problem was the pavement had a seam with a drop off on the white line.  This seam varied it's foot print as we rose and occasionally made the trailer dance the Hula which was somewhat disconcerting.  Arriving late afternoon at The Glenwood Canyon Resort Campground was a welcome respite.  The views driving through the canyon were spectacular, a far cry from towing our Shasta Compact over in an earlier chapter in this blog titled, "Running From The Storm"









The morning saw us on the highway to Moab, UT and it was interesting watching the topography change as we tooled down the highway.  We turned off the regular path to take old highway 6 into Moab, along the Colorado river.  This was awesome!

I had seen a sign for Green River and I thought, "Oh, Lord! Is this where we are ?"  We had taken a cross country trip in our 20's after Dave met the family I had left in Oregon and we had made a memorable stop in Green River.  If memory serves, it was not green, and there was no river.  We had left early that morning and is was cold in the desert.  Our early 80's Thunderbird had many issues, one of which was if the engine got too hot it would shut off because the brain box, which was a computer, was in the engine bay.  Too hot, poof, total shutdown.  They later moved computers inside the climate controlled areas of vehicles but not soon enough for us....  So, we ran it without the air conditioner just to help the engine.  I had fallen asleep in a sweater and by the time I woke, I was doing just that, sweating, profusely!  We stopped in Green River in order to wash the car and I got an idea.  Since it was a back in car wash with walls on three sides, I had Dave open the doors of the car and the trunk to block the view of me stripping naked for a shower.  Seemed like a good idea at the time, just hose me down.  Dave was standing too close and when he let loose with the washing wand, it peppered me with such force that I let out a SHRIEK! and screamed, "NOOOOOOOOOO! STEP BAAAAACK!!!!"  After some heated negotiation it ended up working so, I slicked my hair back and we found a little restaurant with air conditioning.  

True Story.







We parked at The Moab Valley RV Resort ringed in rocky mesas and perfectly positioned for exploring Arches and Canyonlands National Parks.



















This was one full, busy day and although we were totally enthralled with the views, with the wind, dust, and 14% humidity, we were not! Both of us ended up with itchy skin, weepy eyes, and crusty noses. We were rewarded for our efforts that evening with some of the best Mexican Food we have ever eaten in a little hole in the wall in Moab, UT.



We continued our journey south out of Moab and turning back into southern Colorado heading to Mesa Verde National Park.  It was tempting to go to The Four Corners area but it would have eaten up another two hours so, we will save that for another trip.


Mesa Verde was beautiful but if you are traveling with and RV, you have to drop it at the entrance.  We were non plussed but continued just the same.  It was worth it.  We figured out in short order why.  The roads are narrow and there are small parking areas.  The Pueblos were in a slot canyon and across from each other.  I turned to Dave and wondered aloud, "I'll bet these people used to holler at each other across the way."  He said, "Maybe."  So, after asking the family next to us from The Netherlands where their wooden shoes were and being told they were in the car, I turned and hollered, "Marco!" to the people looking at the Pueblo under us from across the canyon.  A quick, "Polo!" came in response and we all laughed.  I turned to sweet Dave and said, "I guess so!"



  

 




From Mesa Verde we were off the Durango, CO and found some roadside kitsch along the way....



Durango is a wonderful little town, with a thriving economy, and not a vacant space on it's historic main street.  I had arranged for us to take the steam train trip which leaves from the heart of the town and climbs all the way to Silverton.  We were on the shoulder season so, it only went as far as Cascade Station where the train would turn around.  This gave everyone the opportunity to disembark and look around.  Almost everyone had gone to the front to have their picture taken with the engine, a coal fired, steam powered, clanking, rattling, hissing, beast of a machine!  We had purchased tickets for the Parlor Car which was at the rear of the train so, by the time we got to the front, most everyone had taken their pictures.  I asked one of the crew to take our photo and he graciously obliged. 



This created quite the stir.....

Behind the man who took our picture, were most of the passengers on the train, which included a bus full of high school students.  Our picture taken, we turned to step away and a chorus arose from the crowd, "Oh no, pleeeeeeese stay!"  Dave turned to me amid the flashing cameras and whispered, "They all really want a picture of just you" and stepped aside which brought another flurry of flashes.  I stood and posed as if on a Hollywood Red Carpet until everyone was satisfied.  I love vintage clothes and look for opportunities to wear them but I have never gotten a response like this before!  I guess I can check "walking on a red carpet" off my bucket list!





That evening in the campground, I had cleaned the truck and trailer inside out and just as I was wiping down the last bit of the truck, I heard a rumble of thunder.  Great, just great!  I looked to the west to find a horizon wide roll cloud advancing toward us.  "Better get inside before the rain starts", I thought.  No sooner than I shut the door, lighting struck about 100 yards away,  KA-BOOM!!! and it began sleeting.  Thunder sleet!  By the time it was over about 3 inches was on the ground, truck, and trailer.  Oddly enough, in the morning, the sun came out and by the time we left the highway was dry.  Hooray!




The day's travel took us to Taos, NM which was a beautiful day of driving.



 



Our campground in Taos, NM was beautifully landscaped.  We sewed a bit more on our project and the next morning toured the Taos Pueblo created by the Red Willow Tribe.  It was very interesting and one of Dave's favorite things we did on the trip.  The baked goods out of the earthen ovens were HEAVEN!








 
Nibbling on our cinnamon cookies from the Pueblo, we left for Santa Rosa, NM.  Out of the mountains and down to the plain we descended.  A lovely drive.









Santa Rosa, NM was just an overnight and then on to Palo Duro Canyon just south of Amarillo, TX.  It is some more flat out that way, pancake flat!  The canyon is the second largest in the U.S. only falling behind The Grand Canyon.  It's not as deep but it's big and falls well below the flatness of the prairie.  On the way there, the highway was a wide two lane.  There we were minding our own business, driving the speed limit on the straight as an arrow road and noticed a car coming our way in the other lane.  As it passed, so did another car at breakneck speed from behind us and flew by us on the shoulder kicking up gravel and scaring the absolute crap out of us!  This Jerk had to be headed to the canyon, it was the only road after all.  About 5 minutes later, we pull in behind this Buffoon who had a woman in the passenger seat.  I wondered if she was okay with having her life threatened by this reckless driver.


I Swanee! It took every fiber of my being not to get out and tell this idiot off!


After our blood pressure went down, we found our way into the canyon.  Our campground was at the far end and it was a clear night, perfect for star gazing, which we thoroughly enjoyed.








A funny thing happened the morning of our departure.  Look in the above photo..... see all those people?  That's a tour bus, that stopped in our campground.  The people on the tour spread out and walked right through the campsites on their way to snap pictures of the hillsides.  As is our condition, a wandering pod of Chinese tourists came our way.  Eating our breakfast, we watched with amazement as they came right up to our trailer to read and inspect it, walking all around as if it were part the canyon tour.  I scrambled for my phone to take the photo below out our bedroom window so I could prove the encounter !  They had just turned from looking in the bedroom window!!!  Wonders never, ever, ever, cease.




Our last stop on this trip was The Wichita Mountains in Oklahoma.  I had no idea there were mountains in Oklahoma where the wind comes sweeping down the plain.  Sorry, couldn't resist!  I have a trailer friend from the very first rally we went to in our Shasta Compact who lives in Lawton, OK and extolled the virtues of this area to us and we were headed that way so we agreed to have a little camp out together.  She even paid for the night, thank you Rose. :)  As is turned out to my amazement, she was inspired by us at that rally four years ago and has since bought and sold somewhere around 21 trailers!  I told you early on....TRAILERITUS!

We had a wonderful visit but not enough hours to explore so, we vowed to return when we had more time.









The next morning we left for home.......

I will say a few things about this trip.  One is, if you can do it, do it! Another is, all that work we did to the drains held and there were no leaks! None, zippo, zilch, nada!  You can't know how happy this made me feel!


And, most important of all, we finished the skating costume for me to portray Ta Fiti from Disney's "Moana" at The Diamond Edge Figure Skating Club's annual spring show!












A few days after we were back at work, something very nice happened.  Our first trailer, Sprocket was featured in Vintage Trailer Magazine.  What a wonderful homecoming present!