Monday, May 31, 2010

Making the most of dismal weather

Yesterday we decided to visit Glacier National Park in spite of the weather. The last time we were out with the dogs they made such a fuss each time we left the car to look at a view that we decided to leave them home. Shortly after leaving the campground, heading east we approached the Continental Divide. All streams and rivers east of here drains to the Atlantic or Gulf and all waters to the west drain to the pacific. Helen wanted her picture taken under the sign, so here it is.

From here we continued east to reach Route 49 north. This was to take us to St. Mary, the eastern Gate to the park. A few miles up the road was blocked due to snow the night before, so we took the road to Two Medicine instead. This is just inside the park in the southern section. On the way to this section a large bear dashed across the street up ahead. I couldn't identify the bear but I did identify that it was a bear and it was BIG. At the entrance to the park we came upon this sign.

I'm glad I didn't stop for this bruin. Later at the gift shop I mentioned the sighting to one of the operators there. He asked "how old was it?" Was I supposed to know the answer to that? We did find out that is a young male residing just outside the park entrance.

Helen took this picture of some forbidding mountain across the lake. Believe me when I say it was cold and raw.

Also beside the lake was this the Two Medicine Store which was originally an early lodge where FDR gave a fireside chat beside the huge fireplace.

Another awesome mountain.

There wasn't much more to see, so we decided to try an alternate route to St. Mary. We back tracked to East Glacier and took Route 89. Now, Route 89 would be a fantastic trip on a motorcycle or a sports car, but it was a beast in the Jeep. It was like driving a slalom course where the road CONSTANTLY twisted and turned, left, right, hairpin turns. This, believe it or not, was the route I was going to take to our originally chosen campsite, but a call ahead revealed a phone no longer connected. We had to go with our second choice. What a blessing this was, because on Thursday night, in the ice and snow, I definitely would not have made it to St. Mary. I would have driven off the road due to the slippery condition and lack of visibility. When we leave the campground and head to Canada, this was to be our route, one that I would not even attempt when it's warm and dry.

In the Jeep we finally got to the St. Mary park entrance, only to be told that the 50 mile road through the park was closed due to the storm and only 5 miles was passable. OK, we'd do the 5 miles. The scenery was stark and the weather threatened cold rain or sleet. Still, Helen got this picture of some mountain across St. Mary Lake.

This is the passable part of the road.

I mentioned how bad Route 89 was south of St. Mary. That is not entirely true. Most of it was very bad, but the last few miles were very good. This road leads directly to Canada from St. Mary and I wondered if the quality of highway continued north. Beside, I was looking for an alternate road to take from the campground. The road was fantastic! I guess they want to make the park easily accessible to the Canadians. As we got away from the mountains of the park, the weather improved greatly. The temperature went from 43 to 55 and we saw sunshine. This is looking back at the park from some distance.

A short while later we turned east on another road heading back to East Glacier and came a cross a line of horses making their way along a fence. There were several mares with foals and Helen caught the cutest of the bunch.

Just after this picture was taken, the mare got between the foal and the camera person,so no more4 good picture were taken.

The road back to East Glacier was perfect for our needs and I decided to change the route plans in our mapping program. To my surprise, the mapping program was ahead of me. It was not going to take through the road of death, but the much better route. By the way, that section of 89 that I mentioned was practically littered with crosses marking where people had died traversing this part of the Blackfeet Nation.

For today, we have been chilling out and I've been picking at the heater core job. Having the right directions and pictures is priceless. The removal went very well and I could see that the heater had been worked on before. I knew that the front had been taken apart because they left out so many fittings putting it back. Then, when I got the core out, I could see where they had re soldered the core. It held for a few year, so I guess it was a success. I am waiting almost patiently for the new core to arrive tomorrow.


Saturday, May 29, 2010

Another Day in Paradise

We are still here in Glacier Meadows RV park and I just renewed for three more days. The elusive heater core should be here sometime Tuesday and I SHOULD have it all in by Tuesday night. Wednesday, if all goes well, we will be on our way to Canada, at least as far as Calgary and possibly to Edmonton, the start of the Alaska Highway. Yesterday it rained ALL DAY LONG. Not a heavy rain, but a constant light rain and we could hear it hit the roof when we went to bed. Finally it stopped, or so we thought, actually the light rain changed to a light snow. We couldn't hear it fall, but we could see it in the morning. It quickly warmed up enough for the snow to disappear, but not in the higher elevations.

We wanted to drive through Glacier National Park, but the forecast was for a lot of fog. In fact, we went for a ride anyway and passed the west entrance and there was a sign saying some roads were closed due to the heavy fog. No problem, we still have couple of days to fit it in and it's supposed to be better tomorrow.

As I said, we did go for a ride. The dogs were getting antsy and we took them for a ride and let them out a couple of times. Unfortunately, we do not trust them off the leash. Coco in particular heads for the woods and pulls very hard. She smells the elk, deer, and whatever else and wants to chase them. I don't think she would fare very well in a one-on-one confrontation with any of them. We were going to take them on our ride through the Park, but that was quickly squelched when Coco saw a deer. She makes such an uproar you wouldn't believe it. Just like a few days ago when we were walking them on a hillside. She didn't notice as herd of steers on the ranch below us for quite a while, but when she did, she set up such a howl that the whole herd was staring at us. She is no vicious, she just wants to play, but the ruckus is awesome.

This is a hillside waterfall just a short distance from our campground.

This is the #1 photographer caught at the other side of the lens.

I just checked with a group of natives and this is a mule deer. She was so serene, even with Coco kicking up a major fuss in the car. We have seen so many, but seldom get a chance to take a picture as that are quick to disappear.

OK, this one I shouldn't have added. It's one time when I really should have had the camera with the telephoto lens. The white dot on the top of the rim is a mature mountain goat. I hope to do better in the future.

This is from the road to Essex, MT looking down on Route 2 and the middle fork of the Flathead River. A little bit downstream, it meets the other two forks and becomes a rather large river.

I found a fairly high speed Internet connection just down the street from the campground. Thee is no charge. The coffee is very good, and the huckleberry pie is to die for!

Now I'm going back "home" to remove some of the trim from the front cap and get ready for the heater repair.


Friday, May 28, 2010

Weather Woes

We left Billings, Montana yesterday under gray skies but warm temperatures and things only went down from there. The sun was never seen during the entire days driving and after awhile the precipitation started. At first we had a very light mist, so light that I couldn't even use the intermittent wipers, but the mist slowly got heavier and eventually became rain. At the same time, we were gaining altitude, but we didn't realize it or the ramifications of climbing. The temperature kept falling as we traveled and soon the rain was mixed with something icy.

Do you remember my comments a few days ago about the failure of the motorhome heater core and how I would wait until we got back home to fix it? That was a mistake in judgment! Without the heater, there is no defroster. With no defroster, Helen had to wipe the condensation off the windshield almost constantly.

The precipitation was now turning to full snow, but I assured Helen that there was no problem as the snow would melt when it hit the road. That was another error in judgment, for soon the snow was, indeed, sticking to the road.

This is very early in the snow storm. Later, the road that was not hit by tires had about two inches of slushy snow.

This is Helen's view of the road just after she wiped the glass.

I tried to run the generator to run the heat pump to get more heat in the camper, but it wouldn't run because I was too low on fuel. The generator fuel pick-up is higher in the tank so there will always be a quarter tank to drive on. We stopped in Browning to fill up. The wind was blowing very briskly and the temperature was down to 33. The gas station was crowded with people filling up their cars and trucks. Helen heard inside that they were expecting as much as a foot in this freakish storm. OH BOY!!!!!

After we filled up, Helen wanted to stop and I wanted to press on to a descent campground. I was driving, so I won. I thought that with a foot of snow, we might be in the campground for a while. Again, as a flatlander I didn't realize the consequences of altitude fully. A short time later we passed the Continental Divide and we headed down hill. Soon we were below the snow line and, in fact, left the precipitation behind. A few miles later on we pulled into Glacier Meadows RV Park. The people there are very nice and soon we were in a site with the electricity connected.

The view from the campground is fabulous. There were elk in the field in the morning and when Helen walked the dogs later, a deer flashed by her. We were also told to not let the dogs run free as there was a wolf in the area. It's OK to play with them off-leash in the field, but don't let them roam in the woods.

The presence of a number of hummingbirds surprised us in this cold climate. As this picture was taken the temperature was around 36 degrees. The woman who keeps several feeders told me this morning that they emptied all the feeders yesterday. I guess they can handle the cold, but require a lot of fuel.

At this point I have ordered a replacement heater core. I wanted overnight shipment, but this area is not covered with Saturday delivery. Monday is a holiday, so I very probably will not see the core until Tuesday. If I'm locked in this campground for so many days, I had darned better end up with some elk pictures.

More later.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Another day in Billings, Montana

We hadn't planned on another day in Billings, but stuff happens and you go with the flow. I had some work done on a tooth a few days before the start of vacation and it really bothered me last night. When we considered where we would be heading, we realized that Billings would be the biggest city we'd see in the US for awhile. Helen took control of the situation and her years as a dental hygienist were a great advantage. I worried about how to find a GOOD dentist because there are some butchers out there. Helen had the plan. First thing this morning she called a couple of periodontists and asked them to recommend a general practitioner. Periodontists get their referrals from general practitioners and would know the good from the bad. A dentist or doctor for that matter would be hard pressed to recommend someone they didn't respect.

We got the name of Neal Johnson, DMD and when we called we were told to come right down. It was a beautiful new office with a great staff. All seemed personable and professional and it was a good experience in spite of my tooth. The tooth will need some real work when we get back to Florida, but I should be OK for the rest of the trip. Dr. Johnson told us to keep his card if we should have more questions later in the trip.

Then with some extra time and good weather we took the dogs out for a run. They were really hyper to get out and they really ran their hearts out. Well, Coco did. Jodie plays for a bit then rests.

We're also getting some stuff in the motorhome and Jeep cleaned up and organized for later in the trip.

That's all for now.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

From Deadwood, SD to Billings, MT

Helen and I spent another day in and around Deadwood. Kevin Costner filmed some of "Dances with Wolves" in the area and now owns a casino in Deadwood. I was not impressed. Everyone owns a casino in Deadwood and I laughingly told Helen that there was probably a combination barber shop/casino. Later on, my prophecy would prove true. There was a casino in a barber shop.

We also took a scenic ride through Spearfish Canyon, a very beautiful ride where we saw some lingering snow. We saw a few people fishing, but saw no one catching. This morning we headed out early so we could stop early in the day. Billings was not a very long drive because we wanted to break up the drive to St. Mary, Montana tomorrow. It was a very beautiful ride through SD, Wyoming, and Montana. Very beautiful country with snow capped mountains off in the distance. I saw more Pronghorn Antelope than I have ever seen before. They were in ones and twos and in herds of as many as twenty.

Our destination in Billings is the KOA campground. This is a bit more expensive than some, but after two nights in the swamp we wanted to be sure we had a good experience tonight. It's perfect. Spotless bathrooms, clear potable water, and an off leash area for the dogs make this a very nice place indeed.

Tomorrow we are off to St. Mary and Glacier National Park where we expect to be for several days.

More later

Monday, May 24, 2010

St' Louis to Deadwood in two days.

We had two amazing days of travel since we left St Louis. The big thing about the leg from St' Louis to Onawa, SD was the constant wind. I don't mean nice breezes that were wild and constant. An occasional gust would blow the motorhome over half a lane and it made for some tense driving. Fortunately for me, Helen seemed to be at the wheel whenever we came a cross a construction area with very narrow lanes.

Helen had become concerned about Jodie's constant panting while we drive. She's been traveling for years, but seems to be getting worse with time. At Onawa, I got on the computer for some ideas about how to ease her problem but got no concrete information. We were in very nice campground in Onawa, On-Ur-Wa Campground was nice and clean. The owner, Becky was very personable and "hands on", showing us to our site. Wifi was terrific, but I was too tired to do much. Thus, it was an early night and we were off early in the AM for points further west.

Yesterday we got to Deadwood, SD, but it was not an easy ride. We decided to treat Jodie a little different. We put a quilt on the couch and let her ride there. We opened the window a crack along with an overhead vent and she was able to get a snootful of fresh air when she wanted. This leg of the trip went much better.........for a while. Driving through the hills of South Dakota, I would get a "low water" alarm from time to time. At first it was just a momentary peep, but it kept getting longer and longer. At a rest stop I checked the level and it seemed OK so we continued. I found no evidence of leaking coolant. This seems to be the bane of my existence lately. Then I THOUGHT I could smell antifreeze, but wondered if it was my mind playing tricks. We stopped at another rest area and I could see water dripping from the heater, but it was just condensate. I went around to the rear to add water to the coolant system and Helen yelled that it was antifreeze. Sure enough! I simply took one of the hoses off the heater core and ran it back to the other side of the valve and we are all set to continue. We won't have a heater in Alaska, but so what.

Next we were looking for a campground in Deadwood, a town Helen and I wanted to visit. Helen said that the shortest way to Deadwood is exit 31 on I-90. However, my GPS wanted me to task exit 61. Notice the 30 mile difference. The GPS took is in a great circle around Deadwood coming in from the southwest. I think we probably drove 40 miles out of our way, but we did get to the campground.

Here is the next problem. The campground is a dump! The grounds are a bog. The mens' room will not be used by me. The laundry turned Helen's wash orange. There is no cell phone signal in the valley, and the "Free" wifi is $3.50 for 20 minutes. I'm writing this from the library in Deadwood.

That's all for now. I might have more to say about Deadwood later. It's quite a place.

Friday, May 21, 2010

Meet me in St. Louis

We decided to spend a little time in St. Louis, the Gateway to the West, or as us Easterners call it, the back door to the East. Helen was determined to visit the Arch and this time we made it happen. Keep in mind that this is a Helen thing. I, Paul, will have nothing to do with tall arches, space needles or Towers of the Americas.

This is thew view from our campsite and it was plenty close enough for me.

This is a picture that Helen got from a special viewing area across the Mississippi.

Helen marveled at the small compartment that took her to the top with four other people. She said it was close to claustrophobic, but by breathing deeply she was able to prevail. You can see how small it was.

Once at the top, she said the view was spectacular and judging from the pictures I guess she's right.

This is looking across the rive toward a Casino. We stayed in the campground way behind all the parking lots.

The old State House looks good from this angle. The side you can't see us undergoing restoration.

This is where the Cardinals play ball. The Angels are in town and we saw tee shirts and caps for both teams. Go Rays!!!!

A barge traveling up river.

The last picture is of the road and pedestrian walkway to the riverboat rides. As you can see, the rides were not available due to the flood level of the river.

The river really was in flood stage and we could see a lot of trees being washed down the river. In several places they had built up into quite a log jam.

Until later...

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Hanging around St. Louis

We made it to St. Louis on the second night and are staying in a campground associated with the Casino Queen. The rates are very cheap but the facilities are spotless. The wifi that was mentioned in the ad do not exist, so I have to use the connection at the Casino Queen Hotel. They gave me a modem and told me to go into a room and compute. I'm sitting on a sofa in the middle of the room with the computer on my lap. No desks. This is going to be a short report.

Weather is hazy and gray with occasional showers. Rained a great deal last night and this morning. We were advised to take the rapid transit across the river to the St. Louis Arch as the streets in that area are all flooded. We are going to hang in one more day, hoping for better weather tomorrow. Good weather or bad, we'll be gone the day after.

That's all for now

Monday, May 17, 2010

Less than 24 hours!

YES!!! Less than one more day. I want to be on the road around 8 AM so we'll be beyond Atlanta during the afternoon rush hours. It's so close and yet there is so much more to do. We are down to the things that have to be done at the last minute and it's quite a list.

Even at that, there is a lot that has to wait until tomorrow. Unplugging all our electronics will have to wait as will opening the breakers to the microwave, stove, water heater. Don't want to shut off the hot water now and have to take cold showers in the morning.

There was a lot of rain this morning and my pool cover pump works perfectly. I was having some problem with the water making a big puddle on on end with the pump on the other end and pondered how to solve the problem. Helen took a quick look and suggested that I use a couple of long 2x4s to create a channel for the water. It was the perfect solution.

Now we have to move the contents of the house refrigerator to the motorhome and keep our eye on the rest of the list. The next addition to the blog should be from someplace well north of Florida.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Getting Closer to Vacation

Well, Helen and I are getting closer to our vacation every day. There is a lot of stuff to pack and we are taking our time, making sure we have everything we need, and stowing it properly. The motorhome and Jeep are already to go with proper oil, grease and air in the tires. Of course it's never that easy.

A few days ago Helen came home from Crystal River and I could smell the sweet odor of antifreeze. This has occurred before and each time I raise the hood and look, but find no sign of coolant leak. I know it's happening because I have to add water from time to time, but I'll be darned if I could find the leak. This time was no different, at first. I opened the hood and looked over the engine. I could find no leak although the smell was stronger than ever. I got a flashlight in order to look more closely. Aha!!! The leak is under the intake manifold and the heat of the engine evaporates the water so it never gets a chance to drip on the floor. The good news is that I located the leak. The bad news is that all the stuff on the top of the engine has to come off to access the leak. More bad news is that the particular item is no longer available from Lincoln and is not available at a parts store either. The original part has to be sawed apart and replaced with a hose of the same diameter. That won't be too hard, but getting all the stuff off and back on properly will be quite a job. Too much to consider doing now. I'll put the Lincoln up on blocks for the duration of our trip and work on the car when we return. By then I'll be able to decide whether I will do the job myself or pay to have it done. A lot will depend on what money we will have available when we return.

OK, I've got to run to Wal-Mart for a few things and the pack some more stuff into the camper.