Saturday, September 9, 2017

Tuscaloosa then south...maybe.

We spent a week in Tuscaloosa visiting my sister and helping my mother with daily chores.  I was able to use the FMCA Michelin Tire Advantage Program to buy my mother a set of Michelin tires for her Cadillac.  The program requires you to go through the FMCA office to order the tires and have them delivered to a participating vendor.  You don’t get to see the final price until after the tires are installed, but just as with RV tires, the discount is substantial over normal retail. 

While we were there, I took the opportunity to wash The Bus.  I keep my wash bucket in the side area where the batteries are stored and when I opened the door the latch pin fell to the ground with a chunk of rusty metal.  When I bought The Bus 3 years ago, I noticed corrosion in the battery compartment.  I cleaned it, treated everything to POR15, and added a 16ga metal plate under the compartment.  All of this is very solid.  I did not make repairs under the latch pin and over time, it has vibrated itself to pieces. I took time to do the same procedure under the latch pin and it should hold until I can get it properly repaired.
Outer edge rusted away, cross supports intact
Metal plate installed with stainless steel screws and latch pin attached to it
Metal plate bent 90 degrees to attach to and cover outer edge
During the fall, we must carefully schedule trips to Tuscaloosa, AL and Auburn, AL to avoid home football games.  All the RV parks are in those areas are reserved often a year in advance for home games.  We departed on a Friday morning before the University of Alabama’s first home game and headed southwest to Jennings Ferry Army Corp of Engineers campground.  A fellow RV’er told me this was a nice spot and it really is.  We got set up with 50amp service and water in a location that we could lock onto a satellite to watch our Auburn Tigers play. 

We have had plans for six months to visit Bella Terra RV Resort in Foley, AL and will head that direction next week.  However, we are watching Hurricane Irma’s track and may need to alter our plans.  We remain on alert for possible hurricane recovery response with the Southern Baptist Disaster Relief organization.

Thanks for keepingupwiththejonesrv!

RV Tip:  We use a self-adhering clear frame with a sheet of paper behind it on our refrigerator to keep track of RV routine maintenance items (tank flush, battery watering, gen set run, heater run, etc.) and our grocery list.  We take a phone photo before we go to the store. 

Wednesday, August 30, 2017

Eclipse, Waterfalls, and Rocks

David and William Jones observe solar eclipse
We bid farewell to our sons in Auburn and headed toward North Georgia to see the eclipse in totality.  Our first stop was Doll Mountain Army Corp of Engineer campground near Oakman, GA.  The campground was off the beaten path through a high-end residential neighborhood.  The facilities were outstanding with large level concrete pads, 50amp service, and water.  We stayed a couple nights and put it on our list of places to return. 

Next, we travelled to Mountain View Campground near Cleveland, GA and Helen, GA.  Pattie and I honeymooned near this area more than 30 years ago and we always look forward to returning.  Mountain View is a resort with all the amenities including a water park, horseback riding, and cabins.  They also participate with Passport America (50% off regular rates).  It proved to be an excellent location to view the solar eclipse in totality.  We used a colander to make interesting shadows and noted the natural shadows changing. 

My oldest son and his best friend joined us for the event and we were able to move things around in The Bus so everyone had room to sleep. 

We explored the area for several days and enjoyed some good German food in Helen’s Alpine Village.  We also looked at some property in the area, as this is one of the places we may consider settling once we come off the road.  We saw some nice homes, but we discussed it and are just not ready to invest in property and the obligations that come with it. 

Just outside Helen, GA is Anna Ruby Falls.  We took an afternoon and hiked in to see the falls.  This was my first outing since I tore a calf muscle.  The trail was paved and allowed me to take my time, stretch the muscle, and work it carefully. 

A few months ago, we spoke to fellow RV’ers who asked if we had been to the great canyons in Georgia that they call a “Little Grand Canyon.”  We decided to find it and discovered there are several touted canyons in Georgia.  We picked Cloudland Canyon State Park as our next destination.  The park was very nice with an East and West Rim campground.  We stayed on the East Rim and hiked into the gorge to see the waterfalls.  The hiking is a bit strenuous with just over 600 steps one way and you need to be in good health before attempting to make it to the bottom of the gorge.  We took our time and made it just fine although we were a bit sore the next day.

On another day, we traveled to Rock City Gardens, Ruby Falls and Point Park all in the Lookout Mountain range.  All my life I have seen barns with “See Rock City” painted on the side and have finally seen it.  These three sites are in North Georgia and South Tennessee near Chattanooga.  Each is unique and worth a visit. 

You can see 7 states from here!

The Rock City Gardens have interesting rock formations that remind me of Dismals Canyon in Alabama.  The difference is Rock City Gardens has made it a groomed commercial garden where Dismals Canyon is more natural. 

Panoramic view from the Flag Court of  7 states.

Pattie contemplating Lover's Leap...Noooo!
Groomed trails
Fat Man's Squeeze...appropriate name

Ruby Falls is inside a cavern 1,120 feet below the surface and ¾ mile inside the mountain. The cavern can only be reached by an elevator.  It was originally discovered when the owner of the area was attempting to reach Lookout Mountain cave whose entrance was blocked when the railroad was built at the base of the mountain. 

Atop Lookout Mountain at Point Park, we visited the Civil War memorial for the Battle of Chattanooga.  This was a great location with maps depicting landmarks that you can see and picture how the battle unfolded.

From here we began heading southwest and stopped in Gadsden, AL to learn a little about this area of Alabama.  We stayed at the City Park adjacent to the Noccalulla Falls Park.  We were able to hike into the gorge and walk behind the falls here.  The campground was very nice and at a reasonable price.  If you have not visited Gadsden, AL before, I recommend it.  The city planners have invested in green spaces and multi use trails making it a nice place to spend time.

From Gadsden we headed to Tuscaloosa, AL to spend some time with my mother and anxiously watch the disaster in Houston, TX.  We are on standby for possible deployment and are in prayer for the victims and responders.

Thanks for keepingupwiththejonesrv!

Note: Rock City Gardens thought it was cute to place these creepy little gnomes all around the garden. What a fun tactical shooting range this would be.

Thursday, August 17, 2017

A Time for Celebration

On our way back south, we stopped near Elkhart, IN to tour the Newmar motorhome manufacturing plant and visit the RV & MH Hall of Fame.  It was interesting to see how RVing in the US has progressed over the years.  We also enjoyed seeing how Newmar makes motorhomes and comparing it to Tiffin's work in Alabama.
Next, we traveled to Wright Patterson AFB, OH (near Dayton) and stayed at the FamCamp for a week.  We were able to visit with family in the area and ran into Mark and Holly Shaw, some RV friends we had met last year in Massachusetts.  Mark and Holly operate On the Go Mission ( from their custom Fifth-Wheel RV.  It was good to see them again and see where their mission has led them over the past year. 
No trip to Dayton, OH is complete without visiting the USAF Museum.  I have visited here several times over the past 30 years and once again was impressed by the recent expansion of the facilities and new displays. 
We wanted to see The Ark Encounter in Williamstown, KY and found no good campgrounds near this attraction; so, we took a day trip from Dayton to visit it.  This was very fortunate for us as we discovered bridge construction along the route that we were able to avoid the following day in The Bus.  The Ark is the largest wooden structure in the world and built to original specifications.  The designers took great care in researching how scientifically and with the available technology Noah and his family were able to care for thousands of animals.  It was a well-done attraction with growth planned in the area.
Next, we stopped off at Red bay to have the custom headlights replaced because the left one had failed.  Brannon replaced them no questions asked.  He also noticed our front passenger side slide needed adjustment, so we checked into the service center for a couple nights and they made the adjustments.  Unfortunately, our Winegard Trav’ler satellite antenna failed at the same time.  I called Winegard and they quickly sent a new antenna with instructions on how to install it.  
Finally, we arrived at Auburn RV Park ( our favorite place to stay in Auburn, AL.  This was a time for great celebration as our oldest some William was graduating with his degree in Mechanical Engineering.  We had 15 family members join us from as far away as Wyoming for this event.  We had a fun family dinner at a local restaurant the night before the commencement.  Afterwards, we ate BBQ and did some shopping for Auburn memorabilia. 

Once graduation was over, we stayed to use the boys’ youth for some projects.  My son William spent a couple hot hours on The Bus’ roof with me swapping out the Trav’ler antenna.  Pattie and I took the opportunity to empty the upper cabinets and add Reflex insulation.  This has shown to lower cabinet temperature by 4-5 degrees. Next, we planned some landscaping and a new walkway at the boys place.  Unfortunately, I pulled a muscle in my right calf and ended up in the doctor’s office getting MRIs and referrals and had to sit by as my family worked on the landscaping.  We extended our stay in Auburn another week to address these issues.  The landscaping came out great and the doctor said with some specific exercises, my leg should be well in 4-5 weeks. 

RV Tip:  Lubricate, lubricate, lubricate.  So may things on The Bus move in one way or another.  I carry a can of T-9 lubricant each time I get on the roof.  I lubricate the little gears in the vent fans and the over the air antenna.  I also wipe down and lubricate the small pressure switches that activate the vent fan motors.  If not, these will stick and the fan will not come on.

Thanks for keepingupwiththejonesrv!

Sunday, July 23, 2017

Exploring Michigan's Upper Peninsula

We hope everyone had a happy Fourth of July or more appropriately, Independence Day.  On the flagpole, you might notice a boxy antenna.  That is a WeBoost cellular antenna.  I was planning to add a booster of some kind and found myself with almost no signal while camping deep in a National Forest.  Lucky for me the local ACE hardware had the WeBoost Home edition on the shelf and I bought it.  I believe the WeBoost Mobile comes with a different antenna that I can add later.  For now, it worked and I received 20-40% better signal strength allowing me to maintain connectivity.
We departed Kentucky and stopped at an abandoned Air Force Base in Illinois for a night where someone bought the old mobile home park and converted it to RV spots.  From there we headed north, but had mechanical problems that caused us to camp at a roadside shop (see separate post on Mechanical Issues).  Then we settled into Wisconsin for a week where I could catch up on work. 
We took an afternoon and visited Wisconsin Dells, which is a small town that has drawn tourists for more than a century.  We walked the main street and browsed the t-shirt, cheese, and fudge shops.  Pattie booked us a dinner cruise up the river that was quite nice. Half way into the trip the boat docked and they let us hike though the rocky gorge.  We sat with a lovely couple and enjoyed a very pleasant evening with good company. 

Finally we made it into Michigan’s Upper Peninsula where we intended to explore last summer, but were called away for disaster relief operations.  We stopped for four nights at Pioneer Trail Campground in Escanaba, MI and took time to explore the area and look for a place to stay over the Fourth of July weekend.  Holidays are always a challenge for us, as we do not make reservations very far in advance because we don’t know where we are going to be.  Naturally, all the campgrounds with full hook-ups were reserved.  So, we took the Jeep and explored into the Hiawatha National Forest and found some first come first serve spots where we could boondock.   We met the nice camp hosts at Colwell Lake Campground who suggested we go ahead and pay for 10 days to get us through the holiday weekend.  The rules say you must occupy the site and not leave for more than 24 hours to hold your spot.  Here is where carrying a couple old folding chairs in the Jeep to leave until we can get back with The Bus is a good idea. 
We set up right on the lake for 10 days of Boondocking with our fresh water tank full and gray/black tanks empty.  We explored a few small communities nearby and Pattie tried the UP favorite dish called a Pasty (rhymes with nasty, but it is quite good), which is a meat and veggie pastry similar to an empanada. Our stay went well except for a clogged generator fuel filter (see mechanical issues article) that took us away for a few days to Gladstone Bay Campground in Gladstone, MI on the Little Bay de Noc of Lake Michigan. The WeBoost kept me on-line so I could work. We took a day trip on the 4th to Munising, MI to see the beautiful Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, with majestic views and pretty waterfalls.

We departed on 5 July and went to Ojibwa Casino in Baraga, MI.  Online reviews said they had full hook-ups and a great buffet.  It was awful.  A water pipe had broken and I failed to check if it worked before we got level and set-up (the lady in the casino didn’t mention it when we checked in either!).  We were able to drag their 200 feet of hose across the parking lot and fill our fresh water tank, so it was just an inconvenience.  We explored up the Keweenaw Peninsula to visit Copper Harbor.   On the way, we passed through Chassell, MI just as their annual strawberry festival kicked-off.  We stopped and bought some strawberries, homemade jams and maple syrup. We explored the historic towns of Houghton and Hancock (separated by the Portage Lake canal). On the way back we stopped along the road to watch a beautiful sunset near Mclain State Park.

The next day we explored around the east side of KeweenawBay to the ghost town of Pequaming.  (Just north of the pretty town of L'Anse.) This was once a thriving timber harvesting and wood mill community established by Henry Ford to provide wood for his early automobiles.  When the post WWII metal cars came on the market, the town could not survive. Now it is seeing a resurgence as a summer vacation place with many beautiful homes.
On Friday and Saturday nights the casino was real busy and the smoke filters pumped the cigarette smoke out where the wind carried it across the parking lot to our campsite.  That was enough.  We departed early and headed east stopping at Muskallonge Lake State Park near…well, nothing.  It was a nice park with electric hook-up and on Saturday we were able to explore further east to White Fish Point.  We plugged the Great Lakes Shipwreck Museum into the Jeep GPS and head out.  Shortly the GPS turned us onto a graded gravel road.  I assured Pattie that this was normal to have unpaved roads up here in snow country and I am sure it was a short cut to the highway.  Soon the road was soft sand requiring four-wheel drive, but I again assured dear wife that everyone up here as four-wheel drive and the highway would be just ahead.  The next turn things got narrow and muddy, then deep water, and finally the road was completely flooded.  We doubled back to find the graded road and met a couple on an ATV.  He said “What are you doing back here?”  I said, “Apparently, I am lowering the resale value of this Grand Cherokee.”  He laughed and pulled out some maps to show me how to get back to the graded road and the highway.  He asked of we had an “ORV permit.”  I said, “This ain’t no ORV, it is a Grand Cherokee.”  He said, “Well, if you are going to drive on snowmobile trails you need a permit.”  I started to say it was July and there was no snow, but figured we were just having a hard time communicating with his accent and all.  The directions took us back to the graded road that did take us right to the highway.  I don’t know why the GPS thought those trails were a better route.  Use caution if using a GPS for navigation in the UP.
We finally arrived at White Fish Point and enjoyed the Great Lakes Shipwreck Museum.  They told the story of many shipwrecks and had relics from many including the Edmund Fitzgerald.  We appreciated the history and courage and ruggedness of the mariners and shore men in that area. 
We departed and traveled to Cedarville, MI to spend a week at a resort right on lake Huron.  It was a nice campground with full Hook-ups.  

One evening we  traveled to Tahquamenon River Falls to hike the area and see the second largest waterfalls east of the Mississippi.  The water gets its reddish color from the decaying cedar and spruce trees.  It is not harmful to fish or wildlife.

On the weekend, we traveled to Drummond Island and rented an ATV for a few hours to explore the trails and have a picnic.  

Afterward, we drove up to Sault Ste. Marie (American side) to see the locks and have dinner.  We were able to view a large ship departing up river through the lock. We took time to go through the museum at the Visitor Center which we found very interesting. We found a nice restaurant where Pattie had grilled lemon pepper whitefish and I had it Cajun fried. Whitefish is a native freshwater fish that almost all the eating establishments serve.
On Sunday, we took the bikes down to Mackinac Island and did the 8.2 mile trail around the island to see the sites.  We had a nice lunch and bought some fudge before heading home.

With our exploring the Upper Peninsula complete, we began heading south.  We had never been to Michigan’s Upper Peninsula and wondered what it was like. The geography was much different than expected.  It is very flat, lush with trees, lots of water, and a mix of soft sand and rocks.  We learned about whitefish, Youppers, Pastys, timber harvesting for early cars, mining for Dolomite, snowmobile trails marked like roads, ATV operations, biting flies, rivers of red water, Great Lakes history, and canal lock operations.  Best of all, the high temperatures were in the mid-70s most of the time.

Thanks for keepingupwiththejonesrv!