Wednesday, September 12, 2018

Crater Lake, Oregon

 When I was about 6 years old, my parents took our family to see Crater Lake, Oregon.  I never forgot its beauty.  Three years ago Pattie and I were planning for full-time RVing and listed places we wanted to visit.  Crater Lake made the list and this summer we were able to visit the area for a week in early September.  The weather was pleasant with highs in the 70’s and lows in the 50’s at night.  It was Labor Day weekend and we reserved one of the last campsites in the area at Diamond Lake National Park Campground.  Crater Lake Park was a short drive south and we enjoyed driving the 33-mile loop road around the lake in both directions.  There are numerous pullouts and we took advantage of them to take pictures and read the interpretive signs.

 Our timing was very good as just days before, most of the lake was obscured by smoke from regional forest fires.  We took advantage of the opportunity and hiked the steep mile long trail down to the boat launch area for a boat tour around the lake.  The clarity of the water has set world records (over 100 feet) giving it a hue of blue like no other.  The water is so pure; the guide stopped the boat and allowed everyone to fill his or her water bottles.  The boat ride was worth the steep hike down and back out of the caldera.  

We had already seen the sights before the crowds descended on Crater Lake for the Labor Day weekend. We took this time to explore outlying areas of interest like the Pinnacles (an area formed by the river eroding the ash fields), the fisheries at Lost Creek Reservoir (where we saw the salmon jumping up the ladders by the dam), historic Union Creek and Knob fall.  We also took time on Saturday to visit the campground lodge’s sports bar and watch the Auburn Tigers play the Washington Huskies in college football. Auburn won so it was a great day for us.

 Thanks for keepingupwiththejonesrv!

RV Tip:  Leveling the RV is critical notably for comfort; but also for the slides and other components to work properly.  The Diamond Lake NP Campground listed this site as 70 feet long.  It did not say that it was curved and peaked in the center.  Being a holiday weekend, every other spot was taken, so we had to make this work.  Pattie guided me into the tight spot with only inches to spare.  We placed our wood blocks and rubber mats under the tires to level The Bus then dropped the jacks to stabilize it.  This was a dry camping spot (no hook up to services), so we had to run the generator for a couple hours each morning and evening to top off the batteries since the solar panel cannot keep-up.  Unfortunately, the generator began shutting down and we were afraid we would need to leave.  I explained the issue on the Tiffin web page and someone suggested adding oil.  It was only a little low, but as soon as I added a quart, it began running perfectly.  Apparently the oil sensor can become oversensitive and shut down the generator even if it is only a 1/2 quart low.  Good to know.  
The campground host and ranger were amazed that we got this size rig in that spot.

Wednesday, September 5, 2018

Washington and Oregon

Kansas and Colorado to go! Doubt we get back to NJ and DE.
When we began our full-time RV lifestyle, we listed places we definitely wanted to see.  Some places we had been to before, some each of us had been to separately, and some neither of us had ever been too.  Visiting locations along the Washington and Oregon coast (some in each category described above) was definitely on our list along with “must see” Crater Lake Oregon.  These would be the last Pacific Coast states we needed to camp in to fill in our sticker map of the contiguous United States. As mentioned before, we only add a sticker if we have camped at least one night in The Bus (we don’t count other visits or camping in past RVs).  
The Bus is equipped with small canvas awnings that we manually pull out to cover the windows and canvas toppers that protect the tops of the slides.  Being 11 years old, these fabric pieces were nearing the end of their life cycle and we could tell they would need to the replaced soon.  The need for replacement was hurried along when we misjudged a tree limb departing Yellowstone National Park and ripped one of the rear toppers.  Fortunately, one of the best companies to replace these fabric pieces is Tough Topper in Vancouver, Washington.  We called them up and they made us an appointment for the following week.  This set our path so; we departed Northern Idaho and headed southwest into Washington on a 105-degree day passing through Spokane toward the Columbia River.  We stopped for a few nights at a Corp of Engineer park along the river then made our way to a RV Park near Vancouver to wait for our appointment.  

During the wait, we took a day trip to the northwest Oregon coast to the town of Astoria.  Here we toured the Columbia River Maritime Museum and learned a great deal about the hazards to shipping entering and departing “The Bars” associated with the Columbia River meeting the Pacific Ocean. This is a truly treacherous bit of water that has claimed many good ships and crews.  It was humbling to learn about the courage these crews must exhibit to navigate these hazards and the Coast Guard crews who stand ready to respond when needed.
Once our new fabric toppers and window awnings were installed, we headed toward the Oregon coast. We could not find a reservation so we identified a few first come first serve campsites in Tillamook, OR and set out hoping to find something.  The first place we tried was the Ashley Inn.  It is a modern hotel with about 10 concrete RV spots that have electricity and water.  They had open spaces and we chose a large pull thru site.   Once set up, we headed over to Tillamook Creamery to learn how their state of the art facility makes dairy products and sample some of them.  It was impressive to see how the cows milk themselves.  No kidding.  When it is time, they enter and push a button with their nose and the laser guided machines do the rest.   When they are finished, the gate opens and out they go.   Tillamook Creamery is owned by a cooperative of local farmers and their products are outstanding.

We also toured the Aviation Museum in Tillamook.  It is housed in a very large wooden hangar that was used for blimp operations during WWII. The US Navy would fly blimps from strategic locations along the east and west coast looking for enemy naval vessels. Timber Structures, Inc. headquartered in Portland, OR built these extremely large wooden hangars.  It was good to see credit given to a company that a couple decades later, my father worked as General Manager.  
On other days we explored up and down the coast visiting lighthouses.  Occasionally we would see a whale breech or some seals loafing around.  We appreciated the diversity of the Oregon coast, as it seemed to change at every bend in the road.
Rockaway Beach Kite Festival 
Which picture is not from the Oregon Coast? Answer: They are all from the Oregon Coast
Coastal Protection. Note Coast Guard helicopter passing by lighthouse

After a few days at Tillamook, we headed south along the coast to Coos Bay, OR.  Here we had reservations for a week at a casino RV Park. It was a well-run park and we could use the hotel facilities. We spent a couple days visiting Shore Acres State Park and Gardens.  The rock formations along the coast were the most impressive we saw on the west coast. The gardens were beautiful and we hiked trails through and around them. We really enjoyed the hotel’s hot tub after a day of hiking.   

Some people ask, “How do you find such great spots to visit?”  Often it comes from other RVers that share their information online.  The Oregon Coast locations were given to us by a fellow USAF Veteran and RVer we visited in Idaho.  They volunteer with various agencies around the country and have spent a lot of time on the Oregon coast.  One of the things they shared was to visit Bandon, OR during the Farmers Market. Wow, what a treat this was! We picked up some fresh salad greens, sweets, and fresh fish.   
Bandon, OR Farmer's Market

On our last day in Coos Bay, we traveled north to the Oregon Dunes Recreation Area.  We stopped short of the dunes and read the requirement that each vehicle needed a safety flag to drive in the dunes.  As we turned away, a local family was beside their truck and started up a conversation.  We explained that we didn’t have a safety flag and they let us borrow a spare one they had with them.  How nice. We took off and did some four wheeling with the Jeep in the dunes.  When we were done, we found the family’s truck and dropped the flag off.
Departing Coos Bay, we headed south to see the Redwoods.  We had reservations in Brookings State Park for the following two days, but need a place for the night.   We used Google Maps to locate some spots along the Rogue River where we could dry camp for the night.  We found a great spot and were about to set up when a local came by in a truck and I asked if it was OK to camp there.  He said the area was recently closed to dispersed camping, but gave us a location a couple miles down the road that was also right on the river.  
Sundown smokey sky looks like a Tiffin brochure photo

The next day we headed south stopping along the coast highway for a picnic lunch.  We used Brookings State Park as a base for exploring down into northern California to see the Jedediah Smith Redwoods State Park. It was impressive.  We hiked the Boy Scout Tree Trail that was moderately difficult mainly because the trail is covered with tree roots and you want to look up at the trees.  This is a hazardous combination; but we survived.  The quiet peacefulness of this redwood forest is worth the hike.

We try to avoid going into California with The Bus for a few reasons.  One is the Agricultural Inspection station at the borders. Unfortunately, our next destination in Oregon required us to drive a few miles into California then hook back into Oregon.  Doesn’t matter that we will not stop in the state or even open the door; the border guards want to know if we have any fruit or vegetables on board.  I get it.  They have valid concerns and are protecting the cash crops.  We offered our bag of California Oranges, but we were allowed to keep them.  Then they began asking what state we were from? What county we lived in? Really?  I am at the “Northern” border coming from an adjacent state. Oh well, we passed through not spending any money in the state or any more time than we needed.  Our next stop would be Diamond Lake to visit Crater Lake. You will have to wait, as that adventure deserves a post all on its own.

Thanks for keepingupwiththejonesrv!
RV Tip:  When dry camping (Boondocking), it is important for your onboard systems to function properly.  Sure enough, it seems as soon as we find a good Boondocking location, something that worked yesterday seems to fail.  This time we could not get our water pump to come on.  Thoughts of using a bucket to carry water drained from our fresh water tank for dish washing and toilet flushing flashed through my mind. I replaced the pump about six months ago and kept the old one as a spare, so you know if you have a spare pump, it is not a bad pump.  I put a “help” message out on the Tiffin Facebook page and got several responses for things to check including a very good troubleshooting write-up.  I went step by step through the troubleshooting checklist testing voltage at various locations and removing the pump to check it. Everything tested good.  Then I read a tip that a Low Side Latching Controller was hidden behind a board in the wet bay.  I found it and tested the inputs to it.  They were all good and the checklist said at this point it must be a bad pump. No way!  I thought about it for a moment then flipped my screwdriver around and smacked the controller three times with the screwdriver handle.  Everything began working properly.  Hmmm…there is a gremlin in this little black box.  I ordered two replacement units online (because you know one will probably be bad) and had them sent to a post office along our next route.  We picked them up and have them ready, but the one I spanked is working just fine.  Go figure.  

Monday, August 13, 2018

Montana and Idaho

Proper battery charging is critical to operating RV systems 

We enjoyed our stay in Yellowstone taking our time to see all the things we wanted to see at a leisurely pace.  The trick was to go in early about 7am or late after 5pm to avoid most of the crowds. Camping in a big RV in the park was challenging and without an electrical hook-up, we relied on our generator, solar, and batteries. We began having a problem charging the batteries causing us to run the generator more often.  Even then, they just were not charging up.  Since the batteries are 5 years old, my first thought was I needed to replace them.  We left the park and were able to return to Yellowstone Holiday RV Park for one night. There was a mobile mechanic who lived in the park and I discussed it with him.  He had a better circuit tester than I do and determined that the inverter was indeed producing a charge, but that charge was not getting to the batteries. After a bit of discussion, we found that the main wiring connection from the batteries to the inverter was just loose enough that in cold weather they were not making contact.  We cranked down hard on the hex bolt connections and soon were back in business with full charge.
The next day we headed north to Montana and stayed for a few days at a couple roadside campgrounds long enough to meet our timeline for reservation near Glacier National Park.  It was from one of these parks that we explored Garnet Ghost town and returned along the “steep and scary” back way off the mountain.  We found the ghost town well preserved and not sure the web reviews of the back way off the mountain were accurate as it was just a dirt road.  
Ruwana Knives Bonner, MT
We did go through a tiny town of Bonner, MT.  My dad once gave me a hunting knife that has “R.H. Ruwana Bonner, MT” stamped on the side. Sure enough, we found the little shop and R.H. Ruwana’s grandson is still making knives there.  He was about my age and I told him how much we had appreciated the craftsmanship of this knife.  

We continued north along the eastern shore of Flathead Lake to our campground in West Glacier.  Once set-up, we took the Jeep to the east side of the park near Two Medicine Lake.  We hiked to the top of Aster Park Overlook and were rewarded with long views of the lake and surrounding mountains.  On the way back we stopped to cool off near the falls and even saw a moose in a pond. Throughout glacier there are many early 1900’s resort lodges.  These structures have stood the test of time and are magnificent with their huge timber structures.  
The next day we drove the Going to the Sun Road in the Jeep.  It is a tight and twisty road not suitable for vehicles larger than a pick-up truck.  The views are spectacular although haze from forest fires made it less than optimum for us.
 We stopped along the way for a picnic and met a couple who volunteers in the park as animal guides.  Basically, they look for animals and direct traffic to prevent “Bear Jams” and try to keep people from doing stupid stuff near wild animals.  We saw three grizzly bears near the roadside while talking with them.  
We picked out a couple trails and took the same strategy as in Yellowstone to avoid the crowds.  We entered the park about 5pm and by the time we got to Logan Pass visitor’s Center, the crowds were thinned out.  We took a nice sunset hike to Hidden Lake. We were excited to finally see some mountain goats that had eluded us so far in our journeys through the Tetons and Yellowstone.   Hidden Lake was beautiful an well worth the hike.  
Of course, when we departed, this elusive creature was parading proudly alongside a parking lot. All that hiking and here he is strutting his stuff close enough to touch.

Avalanche Lake is one of the most popular hiking trails and we hit that one early arriving at 7am to get a parking spot.  Adjacent to one of the park campgrounds, many people go right from their campsite to the trail.  Winding up past scenic water falls and magnificent timbers, Avalanche lake rests about 3 miles in and has a beach along the northwest shore.  Many people stop here, but Pattie and I hiked another .7 miles around the lake to the southeast shore where about a dozen people were lingering about admiring the crystal clear lake and reflections of the mountains.  It was about then I noticed a couple from Ohio that had passed us earlier facing the woods with their bear spray at the ready and walking backward toward the lake. I told Pattie there must be a bear and started heading their way with my bear spray and camera.  Soon the big sow grizzly and three cubs emerged from the edge of the woods and began moving to the north shore as the couple from Ohio moved south toward us.  
We hiked back to where the crowd was getting larger at the northeast end of the lake and waited.  We had seen the sow climb on top of a beaver hut and paw at it greatly upsetting the beaver who swam into the lake and started slapping his tail on the water.  She was heading up the north side of the lake.  Soon Pattie spotted bushes moving just across the lake from the crowd. We told them about the bear and soon everyone was at the waters edge getting glimpses of the bears and taking pictures.  We made our exit and headed back to the Jeep.  
On another day, we drove up North Fork Road to Polebridge and on to Bowman Lake.  It was a long gravel road and that came very close to the Canadian border.  We had a picnic on the peaceful shores of Bowman Lake as a large Mule Deer Buck walked around paying us no attention.  
Bowman Lake

One afternoon we joined a Glacier Guide group for whitewater rafting on the Northfork Flathead River. Our guide was Zack and he made the trip interesting and educational.  We survived and celebrated with a couple burritos that were as big as my head from Wandering Gringo CafĂ©.
Our time in and around Glacier National Park was filled with breathtaking views, animal encounters, and some good exercise.  Next, we headed to Farragut State Park, Idaho and camped in Gilmore Campground.  The state park is on the shores of Lake Pend Oreille.  Now if you want to know some interesting US history, look up this lake.  In short, after the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor in 1941, the Navy decided it needed a place to train sailors far enough away from the Pacific Coast that the Japanese would not be able to attack it.  They built a massive training facility where Farragut State Park now sits. The 45-mile long and 1500 foot deep lake was used for submarine training and acoustic research is still performed there.  We learned the history of the lake and base from some old friends who are volunteering as interpretive hosts there. Keith and Brenda have been full-time RVers for about 14 years nad gave us some great ideas for volunteer work and places to visit. It was great to see them again.
Great visit with fellow full-time RV friends

We had a engine malfunction light on the Jeep, so we stopped for a couple nights near Coeur d’Alene, Idaho to get it repaired.  It was my birthday and the repair shop dropped us off at a local spa where I was able to get a massage and Pattie got a pedicure.  We topped the day off with stone oven pizza and strawberry cake ice cream. The Jeep was fixed and we departed headed for Washington and Oregon.  

Thanks for keepingupwiththejonesrv!

Friday, July 27, 2018

Yellowstone: The First U.S. National Park

Stopping for lunch inside the park
We departed Teton National Park and headed north-entering Yellowstone National Park by the south entrance.  The National Access Pass (available from the National Park Service (NPS) for seniors and those with disabilities) was checked at the gate and they waved us through with no fee.  

The Bus did a fine job pulling the Jeep up the long grades; but, we pulled over in one of the side areas to let cars pass and have some lunch.  
We made our way through the park passing Grant Village Campground where we would
stay the following week and out the west gate to West Yellowstone.  West Yellowstone, Montana exists for the tourist business and it was booming this summer with visitors from all over the world.  We headed north to Yellowstone Holiday campground and enjoyed the level pull through campsite with full hook-ups.  Pattie was able to catch up on the laundry here and I cleaned the inside of The Bus and Jeep windows.  
Our plan was to use the campground north of Yellowstone as a base for exploring the northern circle of the park and later use Grant Campground as a base for the southern loop. This worked well, but required some backtracking due to our timeline.  The locals said the road to Mammoth Springs was under construction and 30-minute delays were normal.  To counter this, Pattie and I departed camp about 6:30AM and headed into the park.  The temperatures were in the high 40’s and the steam coming from various fumaroles and geysers was spectacular.  Our first wildlife encounter was a big old bull bison with steam rising off his body just lumbering down the road in our lane going the same direction we were going. He paid us no attention as we passed. 
One of us enjoyed the geysers more than the other
We made it through the construction with hardly enough delay to eat a yogurt for breakfast.  We stopped at Mammoth Springs and began the first of many, many short hikes around what I call bubbling pools of various goo and chemicals.  Pattie loved it!  We hit it at 9AM just in time to join a ranger who was giving an interpretive guide of the springs.  In the little town of Mammoth, we saw the elk that live and walk among the buildings there. We also discovered huckleberry ice cream that I really like.  
We continued on our journey around the north circle and stopped to hike in to see wraith falls. We stopped at Yellowstone’s own Grand Canyon and ate our picnic lunch.  This was the same spot I stopped for lunch in 2010 when I brought our sons here, so it was fun to share that memory with Pattie.  
On another day, we went back to the canyon and did a steep hike down the north rim to see the Yellowstone river waterfall and back to the top, but the view was great.  Then we went to the south rim and saw the iconic view of the waterfall and river.
Along our way around the park we saw several elk.  Some large bull elk with their horns in velvet and many cows and calves.  We also saw some scary near wrecks as people just stopped in the middle of the road to look at animals.
 At one stop, we approached the river quietly before anyone was there and saw a marmot.  In another location, we saw a lynx. 
After a few days of touring the northern circle, we relocated The Bus to Grant village Campground in the center of the park.  It was a dry campground meaning we did not have any hook-ups for the RV.  We ran the generator in the morning and evening to charge the batteries more than possible with just the solar panel.  It was a tight campground between other campers and the trees. Packed with campers it was always noisy, but at 10pm everyone respected quiet hours and went to sleep.  Grant Village was a good location for seeing the sites in the southern loop.  Of course, we went to see the Old Faithful Geyser that went off on schedule.  

The Grand Prismatic Geyser was probably our favorite feature with its wide array of colors.  Different types of bacteria that thrive in the various temperatures cause the colors.  
Grand Prismatic Geyser

On one drive, a short rain shower passed over and we were able to see a spectacular double rainbow over the Geyser Basin.
We enjoyed our visit to Yellowstone National Park and participated in several evening interactive programs conducted by park rangers.  One evening, we stayed out until 1am looking at stars through various telescopes the University of Montana Science Department set up for our use. Another evening, we heard about the development and evolution of the park and the recovery after the devastating 1988 fires.  One of the most educational events occurred when we took a spontaneous side trip west of Hebgen Lake about 25 miles northwest of Yellowstone.  We found a small museum dedicated to preserving the history behind the August 1959 earthquake that killed many campers and drastically changed the area.  It shifted the lake and many log cabins floated to new locations.  
Remains of cabins flooded during 1959 earthquake
Thanks for keepingupwiththejonesrv!
RV Tip:  Just because it says you can get a 40-foot camper into a campground doesn’t mean it is a good idea to do so.  The Grant Village Campground is not really suitable for such a large rig and we acquired several scratches from tree branches trying to exit. One of the rangers explained the Park Service philosophy of balancing enjoyment with preservation.  Basically if you don’t make improvements (like cutting branches and trees, widening roads, building more campgrounds), it is a passive way to limit visitation.  With nearly 5 million visitors per year trying to see Yellowstone, a lottery system may not be too far away.  If you have a large RV, camp outside the park.