The Great Adventure
Newest First (normal)
The Great Adventure of 2017
Dave Filing and myself are traveling on a route 'west' to see the sights. 'West' covers a lot of territory and we certainly won't cover everything. We are traveling with a very nice travel trailer and will be staying at various campgrounds along the way.
I expect to be logging our trip in more detail than I can on Twitter but there won't be any pictures here - just words.
|Wednesday, July 26 - The Adventure Begins|
We're off! We left about an hour late but our goal for the day is not a full day driving. Better for us to leave late than miss something.
Of course we forgot stuff. Nothing major though.
The drive to the Dayton KOA was pretty much uneventful and gave us enough time to settle in.
I'm a complete novice at this RVing thing so I'm learning as we go. Dave is an experienced RVer but it's been quite some time since he last did it. Things have changed a bit over the years.
The KOA is pretty nice but I don't have anything to compare with either. We need to work some on out trailer leveling skills though. We are parked going up a bit of a hill and after redoing things once we still have about 2 degrees of tilt up on the front and weren't about to redo it again. Practice makes perfect - or better yet a level parking spot.
|Thursday, July 27 - National Museum of the US Air Force - Dayton Ohio|
Although I've been here before, Dave hasn't. This is a great place and anyone with even a mild interest in aviation should visit.
We could have easily spent two full days here but time constraints didn't make that possible. If you can budget two days here split the days between the four buildings. Don't try to go to all four buildings (actually aircraft hangers) in one day and make a second pass the next. Cover each building thoroughly.
You will see aircraft of every imaginable description from the early Wright flyers up through some current experimental craft. There are also numerous displays describing the rich history of aviation throughout the decades.
You can't bring your own food or drink but the restaurant on site is pretty good and not unreasonably priced.
|Friday, July 28 - Mostly Travel with a Glimpse of the Gateway Arch|
Lots of travel today. We were in Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, and Missouri.
We thought we could get close enough to the Gateway Arch in St. Louis for some better photos but after driving around trying to find our way there we just gave up and I settled for one decent photo. It's all I really had planned originally for this anyway as it was 'on the way' to where we were going.
We're going to push it tomorrow too and get to Amarillo.
|Saturday, July 29 - A Long Drive for a Great Dinner|
We drove over 500 miles today on our way to Amarillo. Great weather right up until we got there - and then it poured down rain. This is definitely not normal for this time of year for them.
We were in three states today (Missouri, Oklahoma, and Texas) and I noticed something I thought was interesting. Through Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, and Missouri the main farm crops were corn and soybeans. As soon as we entered Texas the main farm 'crop' was cattle. There were several fields of hay but that's in support of the cattle. There must be some economic reason for it.
Once we entered Texas we also started to see large wind turbine 'farms'. We saw hundreds of the things just along I-40.
We had dinner at The Big Texan. A very good meal. Some years ago Dave tried the '72 Ounce Steak' challenge some years ago. No, Dave didn't succeed then and didn't try this time.
We'll be stopping there for breakfast tomorrow morning.
|Sunday, July 30 - From Amarillo to Grants, NM - Just Someplace to Stay|
Remember how I said it poured down rain when we got to the KOA yesterday? I checked and it was 0.77 inches of rain. Not good for someplace that typically gets less than a tenth of an inch for the whole month of July. By the time we got back from dinner a lot of the puddles were dissipating and I figured by morning it would be decent.
How wrong I was. About 4 AM I was awakened by thunder and ... pouring rain. It lasted for nearly an hour. Things were definitely soaked again and getting around became a challenge. I resolved to make sure I had my Frogg Togs where I was so I could do stuff without getting too wet.
We prepped the RV and picked up the two boards I put down where we needed to walk but a puddle had formed. Off we went to the Big Texan for breakfast. Turns out that is a breakfast bar and it was pretty good but a bit pricey. Dave got to take a bunch of pictures that he couldn't do last night because the place was packed.
Onward to Walmart to pick up a couple of things and then on to our next stop - Grants, New Mexico. What's there? Just a place to stay for the night. Getting there was mostly a good experience though.
The scenery in this area is different and quite beautiful in it's own way. As we neared the Texas border the scenery started to change from the flat fields and pastures of the Texas panhandle to the more diverse style we would see in New Mexico.
We were also gaining altitude which has an impact on fuel economy. By the time we were about 100 miles out from Albuquerque we had passed the 1 mile high mark. We climbed above 7000 but started back down, and up, to settle at about 6500 feet where we're staying tonight.
As I said before, the scenery was very striking and not the flat stuff we saw in Texas. I took quite a few photos but the ones that caught my attention the most were the cliffs with these giant rocks seemingly just hanging there. By giant I mean house size and larger. Some day one will no doubt come down as it's 'friends' will also do.
And we crossed into another time zone when we drove into New Mexico. More clocks and such to reset.
|Monday, July 31 - Onward to Phoenix via the Petrified Forrest|
Doing this on the phone today. More on that later.
We started out from the KOA in Grants, NM. This was a pretty nice place to park for the night. I know that the free chocolate chip cookie probably influenced my decision somewhat. Definitely a good place to stay.
As we headed west we started to climb until we reached the continental divide. Heading down to about 1100 feet in Sun City where we're staying for a few days so Dave can visit some friends in the area.
We stopped off at the Petrified Forrest and were treated to some spectacular scenery. We'll worth the time (about 2 hours). You could easily spend all day on it.
I'll add more details when I can use the laptop.
Onward to Phoenix via the Petrified Forrest - Part 2
Figured out how to do WiFi here - you have to be closer to the central building cluster or have an external antenna. I'm currently sitting in the 'Library' using my laptop and it's working fine.
One more place we were going to go was Meteor Crater but decided to skip it for a couple of reasons. First was we were running short of time because the Petrified Forrest took more time than we figured on. Second was we had a target time to be in Flagstaff to meet one of Dave's friends living out here. I don't think missing this was a big deal but I would have liked to see this big hole in the ground.
I took a lot of photos in the Petrified Forrest (which also includes views of the painted desert). A very interesting area and if you were inclined to do so you could easily spend a day here taking it all in. If you were REALLY interested you could spend several days here just photographing the area. It would be a good place to improve your skills with the camera.
This one park proved the value of the Senior Pass because it got us in for free. Get yours now before the price goes from $10 to $80 on August 28. Don't do it online though - it's $10 more if you do it online.
The drive uphill certainly proved that the combination of truck and trailer were up to the task. Dave was able to maintain the speed limit, which is 75 MPH on most of the interstates out here, nearly all of the time. It's not uncommon for us to need to refuel twice a day though even with the 35 gallon capacity.
That's all for this day. We're staying here for 3 nights while Dave meets up with friends. It's also an opportunity to kick back a bit and do some of the little things we've been putting off.
|Tuesday, August 1 - An Off Day Surprise|
Today was an 'off' day that Dave planned to visit one of his friends in the area. Dave's inspiration struck and he remembered that one of the pipe organ pizza places was in the area. We meet up with his friend and headed to Mesa to take in the Organ Stop Pizza experience.
This was an unexpected treat that certainly was not on the plan but was well worth the stop - particularly since it didn't cost us any time and fulfilled the need for food anyway. The Mighty Wurlitzer pipe organ is something to see and hear. It's a full pipe organ with all of the 'toys' needed to make this a one man band. In fact that was the purpose of the theater organ - to replace the band with a single musician playing the theater organ.
The Organ Stop musician (Charlie Balogh) took requests mostly and played them as they came in. They used a request card system and we put in a couple of requests. One was for Bach's Toccata and Fugue in D Minor. If you know this piece you know it's a heavy hitter and brings out the full power of the Mighty Wurlitzer.
There are several places like this throughout the country. There is no official coordination and they are all different. If you ever get to somewhere that has one of these places you need to go experience it.
|Wednesday, August 2 - Mostly Idle Day|
This one was truly an idle day with the exception of meeting up with one of Dave's friends this evening.
We did some minor trailer and truck maintenance but otherwise it was an idle day. Not a bad thing with 100+ degree weather. Fortunately it was a bit overcast and that helped a little.
We're headed to Anaheim tomorrow where we'll be staying for 4 nights with three days to do things in.
Our stay in Sun City has been a good break from our previous hectic pace. The campground here turned out to be a really nice place even if the showers were a pretty good hike away. No problem for me but Dave had a bit more of a problem. That's what trucks are for of course.
No tweet today since nothing really exciting happened.
|Thursday, August 3 - On to Anaheim|
Today was travel day from Sun City to Anaheim. It went pretty uneventfully. I never realized how much of nothing is in the eastern part of California on I-10. A lot of desert followed by a few low mountains and then ...
Horrendous traffic. Not my kind of place and Dave even had a rough time of it sometimes. The Garmin Nuvi tried to take us someplace we couldn't go (needed their version of EzPass) but we managed to work around it OK.
We got settled into our spot OK and it's kind of a nice RV park. Kind of slow internet though unless you want to pay for it. I'm OK with slow as long as I can check my email, the news, read the comics, post here, and tweet.
Disneyland is the agenda for tomorrow and I expect to post much more then.
|Friday, August 4 - Disneyland and the California Adventure|
We set aside today to visit the land of mouse.
We worked through the California Adventure first and got to see a lot of it. We even rode a couple of the rides. This park is just as good as Disneyland itself in my opinion.
On to Disneyland. Rode a couple of the rides and visited quite a few exhibits.
When I was in Disneyland in 1969 I missed out on the Mad Teacup Party because it wasn't operating. When I visited Disneyworld in 1998 the Mad Teacup Party was down for maintenance. It doesn't seem like a big thing but it's the principle here. I did get to ride it this time around. It's fun but not something I feel I have to do again.
By about 4 PM I'm getting tired with all of the walking and standing. Standing around while waiting in line is a Disney 'feature'. For me it just takes out all of the fun of the place and it gets worse and worse as the day wears on. It's my major gripe about the park. My second gripe is the exorbitant cost of food items. A simple bottle of water is $3.50.
Dave did the right thing and rented a scooter. No doubt this helped a lot but you still have to stand and walk in lines.
All in all though it was a good experience. To do it right though you need 2 days in each park.
|Saturday, August 5 - A Quiet Day|
We made a trek to the local Camping World for some stuff we needed for the camping. Nothing major but little things that we missed getting before. This was on the way to meet up with one of Dave's friends in the area so it wasn't really out of the way.
We met up with Dave's friend and we then cruised a bit just driving around. Dave said 'Dairy Queen' and I searched out one. Unfortunately it was one in a mall and that was not what we wanted - too much walking to get to it. I did find one and we enjoyed a bit of an ice cream treat.
We installed two of the three items we bought earlier on the trailer. I still have one more item on the list but it came in different lengths and I didn't know what we needed. I've removed the item from the trailer and we can take it with us next time we get to a camping store.
Tomorrow is a trek down to San Diego specifically to see and hear the Spreckels outdoor pipe organ.
Remote Problem Back Home
Well, I figured something might happen to one of my servers back home. It has.
There was an approximately 5 minute power outage yesterday afternoon. This is something that the UPSes should handle. The one on the 'new' server did just that and nothing went wrong there. If it had I would not be able to write this. The one on my 'old' server didn't last that long and I expect that server shut down - and didn't come back up for whatever reason.
The 'old' server was running all of the email services. I had moved everything else and was procrastinating on moving the email.
I've moved the email services to the 'new' server now and it is working. The bad news is that I'll have a bit of a mess to work out when I get back home to recover emails that were lost because of the switch. It may take a few hours to get it done. It would have been easier to move it before things went wrong.
|Sunday, August 6 - San Diego and the Spreckels outdoor pipe organ|
A nice drive down to San Diego to visit Balboa Park in San Diego. We went specifically to visit and hear the Spreckels outdoor pipe organ.
There's a concert every Sunday at 2:00 PM so we actually got to hear it play. The actual program was not all that great but the organ itself is spectacular. Make sure you check out their web page at: https://spreckelsorgan.org
Coming back was another story. It seems everyone is out on Sunday afternoon and the traffic was horrendous. It took us at least twice as long to get back as it did to get there.
On to the Hearst Castle and a campground on the way to Yosemite.
|Monday, August 7 - Heading North - none too soon|
Our day today started off pretty normally but quickly deteriorated when we hit the LA traffic. It wouldn't be so bad if it would just slow down. It STOPS for a couple of minutes and then moves on as though nothing had happened. Obviously something had happened but was clear by the time we got to the obstruction location. VERY frustrating.
If it had happened once or twice we could probably have endured that. But it happened at least six or eight times and was driving Dave mad. Being the navigator I just took it in stride but I'm not sure I would have been any more tolerant if I was driving. I will not miss southern California traffic!
Dave and I discussed a change in plan from going to the Hearst Castle or the Griffith Observatory. The observatory won hands down until I checked up and found that it is closed on Mondays. Back to the Hearst Castle. A little more research revealed that the cost per person is $25 for a one hour tour. Dave and I both thought this was way too pricey and we decided to just skip it and go directly to the campground.
Since this campground was fairly close to the Sequoia National Forest (what I had originally purposed this campground for long ago) we decided that when we got there we'd drop the trailer and head off into the park.
This would have worked much better if we had gotten to the RV park when originally planned and not 2 hours later (see traffic issues above). It still worked out OK and we got to see a good representation of the park. I took 100+ photos so it was a good plan.
Off to the next campground tomorrow near Yosemite where we'll spend two nights. That should give us a partial day when we get there plus a full day to explore Yosemite.
... and another thing
I forgot to mention the altitude variations in Sequoia. We started out at about 650 feet at the campground and got above 7500 feet in the park. And of course it's not just up and then down. There were several ups and downs throughout the park. My ears were not happy with this but I survived OK.
I did take one short movie of our back and forth around the bends but it didn't turn out all that good so I'm not going to post it anywhere. Suffice it to say that there were hundreds of left and right turns involved.
|Tuesday, August 8 - On towards Yosemite - or not.|
We headed for our next campground near Yosemite. A very tough drive with lots of turns and twists. Also a lot of up and down. Very nice scenery and I have a few photos.
Dave and I decided we needed a true rest day. Nowhere to go and nothing to do - except laundry. Yosemite can wait a day and I'll be adjusting later things as needed to make it fit.
|Wednesday, August 9 - Rest Day|
A true rest day. Nothing to do - but we weren't completely idle. A few loads of laundry were accomplished so we can last a few more days without doing it again. We went to the local 'big city' of Sonora. I define a 'big city' as someplace that has a McDonald's and/or a Walmart. It was an hour away with a lot of up and down and twisty turns. I have some good video now and you can find a 15 minute segment at: http://www.ak8b.us/west_2017_08-09a.mp4. Be aware that it's big and may take some time to download from my server. I probably should have done it as a YouTube video but I didn't set up anything for that and it's not something I want to do on the road.
All the up and down was giving my hearing fits but once we settled somewhere it cleared up mostly. Our campsite is about 2900 feet and all was OK there.
The trek to Walmart got some supplies like laundry bleach and a fly swatter (actually two to a package). And chocolate. I've been trying to do without chocolate for this trip but it's not working. I need the caffeine apparently to keep from nodding off during the long drives. We'll see tomorrow.
We'll be driving through Yosemite trying to see all the sites we can in a day. I expect there will be lots of photos.
|Thursday, August 10 - Yosemite|
Yosemite is an awesome place. It's another of those parks you can spend a day in or a week or a month.
The scenery varies greatly and includes trees (mostly pines), rivers, streams, lakes, and of course mountains. The altitude variation is significant too. At one time we were above 8000 feet, up from the 3000 at the campsite.
We had to fuel up on the way and got stuck for $3.399 per gallon (that's diesel for those of you who don't know Dave's truck uses diesel). If we had been more attentive yesterday we could have gotten it for $2.799 which is still kind of high. We decided not to do a full fill this time around and grab something on our way to our next stop.
We're off tomorrow towards Santa Cruz and the Roaring Camp, Big Trees and Pacific Railroad.
|Friday, August 11 - Roaring Camp and Big Trees Railroad|
The Roaring Camp and Big Trees Railroad is a great place to see some giant redwoods and ride behind a logging train pulled by a shay locomotive. Switchbacks were involved and at one time the grade was 8Â½ percent.
It was a great adventure right up until I went to take the first camera shot. The camera firmly told me that I needed to charge the battery. No problem - I have a spare. Except I didn't because I didn't transfer them from my shorts I wore yesterday to today's pants.
Cell phones these days take pretty good photos but they are not good cameras. Once you decide to take a shot there is a delay and things can change dramatically during those few seconds. It's a bit more challenging and you have to anticipate when the shot will actually take. I did get a few good ones although not as good as I would have with the real camera.
Onward to the California Railroad Museum in Sacramento tomorrow. It's a little more complicated since we can't drag the trailer down there and park so we'll have to drop it at the campground instead. This campground has a pretty late check in time of 2 PM so I'm going to have to call in the morning to see if we can check in earlier.
The plan is evolving because we missed putting in some San Francisco time. I think I've got it inserted though with no loss of days. I'm not sure how it worked out but I'm glad it did.
One of these times it will be a choice between the eclipse and doing something important. As much as I don't want to I think the eclipse will have to lose to the more important stuff. It will all depend on the situation. Besides, there is an eclipse in 2024 that I don't have to go anywhere for.
|Saturday, August 12 - A museum day turned into a travel and rest day|
This day was supposed to be a quick 3 hour drive to Sacramento and using the rest of the day to visit the railroad museum. No such luck. We got a late start and hit horrendous traffic (surprise!) on the way and decided to just head for the campground. We then set up a two day stay so we could spend the entire day tomorrow at the California State Railroad Museum. It also lets us have a bit of a rest and we're finding that's important too.
This will of course scrap my plans to be in a certain place for the eclipse. We should be in an area where it's at least 80% totality so it won't be a total loss. I expect to be around for the eclipse in 2024 which will be totality from my own back yard. I won't need to go anywhere but will probably try to hook up with some people who will be taking it more seriously than I likely will.
|Sunday, August 13 - California State Railroad Museum|
We spent the day here and it was fun. We started out on a train excursion run and then stopped for lunch before heading to the museum. A lot of stuff to see that covered the range of railroad evolution in California - which is pretty similar to the rest of the country.
I took quite a few photos of the varied displays including the very early steam locomotives (4-4-0) of the area up through the last of the steam locomotives and beyond. The biggest thing there was a 4-8-8-2 - an oil (more like tar) burning cab forward design that weighed over 1 million pounds WITHOUT the tender. The fully loaded tender weighed almost 400 thousand pounds.
We got lucky for parking too. There was a single handicap slot that was actually one of the closest to the museum. There was no parking meter so we lucked out there too.
Off to San Francisco tomorrow.
|Monday, August 14 - San Francisco - 1 of 4|
Although I hadn't planned anything in San Francisco (an oops on my part) we will be staying at the campground outside of town for 4 nights. That gives us the afternoon of our arrival (today) and another full 3 days to explore. Dave has some experience on where to go and we'll plan accordingly. There is a bus tour run from the campground and we're signed up for that on Wednesday.
This afternoon we did drive into San Francisco and saw a few sights. We cruised around Golden Gate park and drove up to Twin Peaks. The views were great but a little sun would have helped. Temperatures were below 60 degrees and it was overcast and a bit breezy. Pretty normal for San Francisco. Clearer weather is expected on Thursday so we'll be back to Twin Peaks then.
We're going to make up a list of places we should go (excluding the ones we'll see on the bus tour) and figure out which ones will happen on Tuesday and which on Thursday.
I managed a few photos of the bridge but they're not all that good. We're supposed to get a good opportunity on the bus trip so I may get to use those.
Skipping the Skunk Train
After some online research and reading the reviews we have decided to skip the Skunk Train. It is not anywhere near what it was 30+ years ago when Dave was out here last. The fare for a ride is also ridiculously high and it's not even a steam locomotive!
We'll be moving on up the coast when we leave the San Francisco area.
|Tuesday, August 15 - San Francisco - 2 of 4|
This turned into a late start day with a leisurely drive down to Muir Woods. It kept us on this side of the bridge and provided some great scenery and more twisty roads to drive on.
We drove straight down 101 to get into the woods and then drove around for a while. We stopped for lunch and then worked out a plan to drive back to the campground via the coast highway. Unfortunately there is a big chunk of it that is closed for construction but there was still a bit for us to experience it. It's too bad that a good part of that section of the 'coast highway' doesn't really run along the coast though.
We ran the furnace last night. It gets chill at night in these northern parts of the state!
We're doing an organized bus tour tomorrow.
|Wednesday, August 16 - San Francisco - 3 of 4 (Guided Tour)|
This turned out to be a real gem of a tour. The driver grew up in San Francisco near Golden Gate Park and was intimately familiar with the area. He knew about a variety of things and places that we never would have been able to discover on our own.
We visited a wide range of the regular tourist places as well as some more obscure spots.
Our driver, John, works for KOA and I hope they know what a real gem they have. I highly recommend that if you get out here, even if you're not camping at the KOA, that you seek out this tour.
We have one more day in San Francisco tomorrow then we're off up the coast.
|Thursday, August 17 - San Francisco - 4 of 4|
Today is our last full day in San Francisco. We visited the Walt Disney Family Museum, Coit Tower, and another pass at Twin Peaks.
The Walt Disney Family Museum was quite a gem. You can see things here that are shown nowhere else. There is a wealth of information about the entire evolution of Walt Disney and his imaginative creations.
Coit Tower offers a unique view of the city from the top of Tellegraph Hill.
Twin Peaks is an even higher vantage point with a LOT of communications systems using antennas on three towers. The view of the city is even better than Coit Tower.
Off north tomorrow to an RV camp among the giant redwoods for a couple of days. It's time for a 'do nothing' day and this seemed like the ideal place.
|Friday, August 18 - Travel day north on the coast highway|
Today was a travel day. We used the coast highway (CA 1) today. It took hours longer but it was worth it. The scenery is absolutely beautiful. Temperature dipped down into the 50s at one time near the coast.
Our goal was a campground within the Avenue Of The Giants. We're staying here two nights so we have tomorrow to do whatever we want. That will include a tour of the Avenue Of The Giants of course.
I can't say I'm unhappy to leave the San Francisco area. It is a wonderful area and everyone should visit it. There is so much to see and do. I certainly would not want to live there though. The traffic is just too intense and it takes forever to get from point A to point B. Weather is also a factor (always cold and frequently dreary) plus the hills! Everything seems to require going up a hill or down a hill (or both).
The internet access is limited at the campground. The cell service is also poor which is pretty much to be expected with all the hills around. Choices of places to eat are also pretty limited. We might have to actually eat what we have in the trailer!
|Saturday, August 19 - Avenue Of The Giants|
Today being an 'off' day we decided to take it very easy. After a late morning start we toured the Avenue Of The Giants. This is a road (old Highway 101) that runs through Humboldt Redwoods State Park. The total length is about 31 miles.
There are literally THOUSANDS of giant redwoods here with a number of turnoffs that will let you get out and look things over. Lots of trails too. We didn't do those as this hiking stuff is for young. It's all unspoiled redwood forest except for the road and a few minor 'improvements'. There are a few sections where the redwoods thin out but it's still beautiful country.
I took 120+ photos and could have probably taken more except lunch was calling us. There are few opportunities for food and we managed to find a good one last night after we rolled in the campground around 7:30. Even that one was about 10 miles away from the campground and we cut it close with our arrival at 8:20 as they closed at 9:00.
This is a great place to spend the day. Watch out for those close trees. Sometimes the highway passes within a couple of inches of the edge of the road!
We're off to Oregon near Medford tomorrow for an overnight stay. We will stick around there probably until 10:30 or 11:00 for a little eclipse viewing (93%) and move on to our next stopover.
|Sunday, August 20 - Travel day into Oregon|
FINALLY! Out of California.
We headed to a campground near Medford Oregon. Why here? All the ones on the coast in this part of California are absurdly expensive.
We'll be watching the eclipse from our campsite. The maximum of 93.42% totality will happen at 10:16:45 local time. We are of course hoping for clear skies. Rain won't be the issue, just clouds and perhaps smoke. I figure on lingering a few minutes after the maximum and will then move on to the next campground.
Oregon is definitely different than California. It's one of only two states (New Jersey is the other) who do not allow you to pump your own fuel. The prices are somewhat lower than California even so. It's also definitely getting greener as we head north. I don't expect it to look like Ohio but it is a lot closer than California where they water the pastures that cows graze in because they don't get enough rain. Pretty much any crop they grow has to be irrigated.
Traveling the coast highway wherever we can has been a great joy. It's not an easy drive for Dave with all of the up and down and back and forth but the scenery is spectacular.
We will be moving on to the next overnight stop which will be right on the ocean near the north end of Oregon.
|Monday, August 21 - Eclipse Day|
I had to delay today's update because we had no internet at the next campsite. I had to walk to the clubhouse at this one to be closer to the wifi access point.
We didn't get to the planned eclipse viewing spot but that's probably just as well. I've heard that traffic on eclipse day was the worst ever in many places. We spent the morning up until about 10:30 at our campground near Medford Oregon and watched the eclipse from there. It was about 93% totality and wasn't a complete loss. Very interesting to see how things got darker even though it's not a total eclipse.
I had a brainstorm in the morning to try and take cell phone pics of the eclipse through my eclipse glasses. It worked but the sun is such a small part of the photo that it's pretty blurry. Better than nothing. If I had thought of it earlier I could have rigged up something to use on my regular digital camera.
When we headed out for our next campground we went north in I-5 and could not believe the traffic jam that was southbound. It turns out that Salem Oregon was in the totality path and a LOT of people drove to see it there. As we were headed north they were all heading south (and probably north from Salem too). The local news reported that the traffic jams were the worst ever on I-5. I can believe it because what we saw was stopped traffic for MILES.
Tomorrow is to Mount St. Helens and the next campground.
|Tuesday, August 22 - Mount St. Helens|
Mount St. Helens is a spectacular place. It's great to see the vegetation (and probably wildlife too) coming back so well. Most places look green as normal but not quite as 'filled in' as you expect.
The huge size of the mountain will give you a small sense of how great of a disaster the eruption in 1980 was. A great place to visit.
We saw our first true wildlife of the trip today - a young deer. Amazing that we haven't seen any real wildlife the whole trip up until today. We did come close a few days back when we saw a feral cat but decided that didn't count.
We noticed highway signs tend to be terse in Oregon and Washington. Where California would say 'Falling Rock' of 'Watch For Rocks' Oregon and Washington would just say 'Rocks'. We've also seen 'Elk' and 'Dip'. Speed signs just say 'Speed 55'. It seems rather frugal but the point gets across just fine.
Since we have been driving on the coastal highways we have noticed the Tsunami Zone signs. I don't know exactly how they determine a tsunami zone but it seems to be anything below an altitude of 50 feet along the coast seems to be it. I think I'd like to be up a bit higher to be safe.
Mount Rainier tomorrow.
|Wednesday, August 23 - Mount Rainier|
A spectacular mountain. You know it's high up when there is snow on it in August. We drove up to the Sunrise Visitor Center at 6000+ feet and were treated to a great view.
We also sprung for lunch up there and the prices matched the altitude.
I can't say I care much for the campground we were in. It has seen much better days and I doubt it will be able to keep going the way it is. It was a place to sleep for the night so not a real disaster.
We advanced our stay location to near Grand Coulee. This is a much nicer place and very reasonable. It's really small but the owners are very pleasant and down to earth. I'd come back to this one anytime.
Free bus ride to Grand Coulee dam to see the laser light show. We'll be back tomorrow morning to do the dam tour. We'll then drive back (only about 10 minutes) and pick up the camper and head on to our next stop.
|Thursday, August 24 - Grand Coulee Dam|
Good tour of the dam today. We got there well before 10 AM to be sure we got on the first tour.
We boarded a bus after an airport like security check - all your metal stuff in the bin and then go through a metal detector. Not really a problem but it did eat up some time.
The bus then took us on a tour around the front of the dam (on public roads) and then on top of the dam itself. We also visited the pump room. The size of the electric pump motors!
It's not what it was 30+ years ago when Dave was here though. Then they just let you loose to wander around. They are much more security conscious now. It was still a good tour.
Onward to an intermediate stop before we get to Yellowstone on Friday.
|Friday, August 25 - On Yellowstone's Doorstep|
We traveled to our next campground in West Yellowstone. It was a less stressful trip than some of our previous ones with less winding roads. We were on Interstate 90 a good part of the way and pretty good roads after that.
I thought we were done with Idaho yesterday but it wasn't so. As we headed south after leaving I-90 we re-entered Idaho. A few miles down the road we were back in Montana.
Just like at home I-90 and US-2 run the same general path.
Tomorrow looks like it may be our idle day so we can do some things like laundry and some other running around. Relaxing will also be on the agenda. No TV here though. Nothing over the air and our site doesn't have a cable hookup.
This KOA looks really good too. I might even get my first chance to play miniature golf.
|Saturday, August 26 - Idle day at Yellowstone|
Yes, this was indeed our idle day. The truck was overdue for an oil change and we managed to track someone down who would do it. That pretty much forced this to be an idle day.
Not that we were really idle. We did vacuuming, laundry, and the oil change. Plus a couple of other minor things. Nothing too strenuous.
The internet here is horrible though. AOL dialup was better. Just getting it to connect to the router(s) is a challenge at certain times of the day. I've found that 4 AM is a great time to get stuff done as well as between about 10 AM and 3 PM (people leaving and new people not here yet). It also seems to be bandwidth starved. There just isn't enough to go around.
The rest of the campground is super though. I'm going to have to try the fluffy pancake breakfast one day. Bacon, eggs, and pancakes cooked fresh outside.
BTW, it was 32 degrees this morning. That's a bit cooler than predicted and I'm certainly not ready for such temperatures. Our altitude, around 6600 feet, may have something to do with that.
There are a couple of things to do right in West Yellowstone. There's an IMAX movie theater and the Grizzly & Wolf Discovery Center that we are going to try to take in after we get back from Yellowstone. On to Yellowstone tomorrow. I think we're going to do the north loop. Either way I should have LOTS of photos.
|Sunday, August 27 - Yellowstone North Loop|
We traveled the north loop today. Lots of interesting things there. We also included a side trip on the northeast entry road and that was well worth it - that's where we found the bison. My wild estimate is maybe 500 of them spread out in several herds in the area. I have quite a few photos. At one point they were crossing the road right in front of cars.
We saw geysers, streams, mountains, meadows, fumaroles, waterfalls, and numerous other places that I don't remember right now.
Our altitude peaked over 9000 feet at one point. That will probably be the high point for Yellowstone.
The lower loop should be interesting in it's own ways. Lots to see there too.
We also took in the IMAX movie 'Yellowstone'. A good show and a good way to relax after a busy day at Yellowstone.
We're doing the lower loop tomorrow.
|Monday, August 28 - Yellowstone South Loop|
Yesterday was a great experience but today was even better. The south loop has it's own set of unique features.
The loop started off with bubbling mud pots. These are hot mud pools with gasses bubbling up in them. There are also just pools of water with steam bubbling up. There were small geysers and other relatively small features
There were waterfalls you could get close enough to that you could feel the rumble of the falling water.
And there were bison in plenty. I don't know if this was the same heard that we saw yesterday but the size was similar. Mostly they were at a distance with just a few up close today. We encountered a lone bull in a field just grazing away seeming without a care in the world. He was really a big guy and I suspect he is the 'top dog' among the bison.
Old Faithful lived up to it's expected glory. A great show that I happened to have arrived for at a good time to see. When I got there seating was pretty open and I snagged a front row on the benches. Then I waited for about half an hour while Old Faithful spewed out steam. As the time got close I started to see minor spurts of water too. Then the main event with the full fury of the geyser was unleashed. I didn't take any photos - I took video. I have about 3 minutes of full HD video of the event.
The mud volcano was interesting too. It's a large pool of mud that is bubbling vigorously away. I wonder where all the mud is going to.
And two more waterfalls. I walked down to the first one and got some good video and photos. It was 200 to 300 feet down this 1/8 mile trail. And of course the same distance back up. The second one was deeper and I decided that I wasn't up to that much hiking. I did get good photos and video from higher up.
The view from the north rim is spectacular. It's the photo you see (if it's not of Old Faithful) most when describing Yellowstone. Spectacular doesn't do this view justice.
This place is absolutely unique. There is a reason of course. This is the caldera of a supervolcano. The distance between you and the magma here is small and this thing could erupt again at any time. When it does, and it will, life for the entire planet will change. If you've heard of nuclear winter an eruption of Yellowstone would make that seem like nothing. Hopefully it won't erupt before mankind has found a way to expand beyond this one planet we're on before that all happens.
Grand Tetons tomorrow on our way to the next campground.
|Tuesday, August 29 - Grand Tetons|
As we leave our campground we pass through once again a section of Yellowstone onward to the Grand Tetons.
The Grand Tetons is indeed a very beautiful and varied park and I have to say that I did enjoy it but ... It's not on the same scale as Yellowstone. I highly recommend that if you are coming to see these two parks you start with the Grand Tetons. You will enjoy them much more.
That said, I do have high praise for the Grand Tetons. Unfortunately we ran into a small thunderstorm and the mountains were somewhat obscured until it cleared up. The thunderstorm wasn't all bad though - the truck needed a bit of a bath.
With it's close proximity to Yellowstone you need to spend some time here too. I budgeted a partial day as we went on to our next campground but you can easily spend a day or two here exploring all of it's hidden treasures.
I have similar advice for Yellowstone too - spend at least a week. Do two if you can. There is so much to explore there.
Onward to Salt Lake City tomorrow to visit Tabernacle Square and specifically get to the pipe organ recital at 2:00 in the afternoon. We will have to leave a bit early to make it there in time.
|Wednesday, August 30 - Salt Lake City|
By leaving our campground at 8:00 instead of our usual time we made it to the next campground in Salt Lake City in time to get to the pipe organ recital.
This is a very fine instrument and the acoustics of the conference center. Only it had been moved to the Tabernacle for that day. It's only a short walk away but that's a challenge for Dave. We made it in plenty of time though.
The pipe organs in the two locations are nearly identical so which one you hear doesn't matter that much. The acoustics in the Tabernacle are outstanding though. No amplification for the speaker is necessary although it is helpful if you're not in the ideal location.
A nice place to visit but I don't think I would like living here. We found the drivers in particular were rude on several occasions. Even in small cars. Not what you expect when you are driving a Ford F-350 long bed crew cab pickup.
Since this is the first civilized city we've been in for a while we checked out if we could replenish some of our essentials and found that there was indeed a Costco (and a Sams Club) nearby.
Onward to Las Vegas tomorrow. We won't need to hurry though so we might do a later start.
|Thursday, August 31 - On the way to Las Vegas|
On our way we passed through Utah (of course), Arizona (29 miles of it), and into Nevada. And of course there time zone changes. Utah is on Mountain Time (MDT now), Arizona is on Mountain Time (MST - they don't do Daylight Savings Time), and Nevada is on Pacific Time (PDT now). This means that now Arizona and Nevada are on the same time offset. During the winter they're different. Odd.
Anyway, the trip through Utah was pretty boring and uneventful. The short trip through Arizona was at least interesting with some unique scenery. Finally, the trip through Nevada was pretty boring too until we got to the big city area and traffic started to gum up the works. We got there though.
We are not planning to do the usual Las Vegas stuff though. We've both already done that. We're doing a couple of odder things.
Although not really odd we're going to Hoover Dam tomorrow morning. Later in the evening we're going to the planetarium to see the shows being presented. Dave assures me that it will be a good show and I'm inclined to believe him. I haven't seen a good planetarium show since I worked at Youngstown State. I'm looking forward to it.
|Friday, September 1 - Las Vegas and Hoover Dam|
At 5:30 in the morning it's 82 degrees. Unpleasant but at least we didn't need to run the furnace last night. High for today was around 105. Yes, we have air conditioning.
Off to Hoover Dam and the power plant tour. Although this isn't as big as Grand Coulee the tour is much more open. We did get to see one of the two banks of generators and of course the impressive array of transmission lines leaving the dam.
The tour started with a historical perspective of how the dam came about and what went into building it. A very impressive project for the 1930s when America needed to harness the Colorado River and a lot of people needed jobs.
After we got through at the dam Dave decided we needed to cruise through Las Vegas. Who am I to argue with the driver? A lot has changed since I was here last some years ago. It has grown dramatically. Of course I was here in November before and it wasn't nearly this hot.
We're headed to the Grand Canyon tomorrow which is a relatively short drive. We're not planning on leaving early.
|Saturday, September 2 - Travel day|
We just traveled today to our next campground near Williams, Arizona. It's about an hour to the Grand Canyon from here but I was forced to pick something out a bit because I wasn't able to set the date for our visit until it was too late to get anything closer.
Of course trying to stay anywhere on Labor Day weekend is difficult.
Even though this is a KOA which are usually good I would never come back here. Too many issues. For me of course it's horrible internet service. I thought one of the other campgrounds was bad but this one is worse. Give me dial-up 2400 baud AOL any day compared to this. This campground won't be getting a good review from me.
And what would a travel day be without some traffic snag. We waited for about 45 minutes on I-40 just west of Williams. The only issue was the everybody had to funnel down to a single lane due to construction. No reason it should take that long to accomplish that simple task. And of course there was no active construction either.
Off to the Grand Canyon tomorrow.
|Sunday, September 3 - The Grand Canyon|
Well, this is a REALLY big canyon. Nothing like I've seen before. It goes on and on and on ...
Lots of photos even though there is quite a bit of similar scenery. It does vary somewhat though. My goal for taking photos turned out to be 'could I see the Colorado River?'. If I could I took two or three photos at increasing zoom levels to show the river in the last one.
We covered a portion of the south rim pretty well. I took photos from nearly every stop we could make and there are some pretty good ones.
The internet access today is marginally better. The biggest problem seems to be the inability of the ISP to keep the connection running. Very frustrating.
We're off to Moab, Utah tomorrow to get close to the Canyonlands National Park. I'm looking forward to yet more canyons ...
|Monday, September 4 - On the way to Moab, Utah|
On our way to our campground in Moab, Utah today. A long drive too.
To add to the travel time we made a stop in Flagstaff, Arizona and visited with some of Dave's friends. We met them before on the way out but since we were going through Flagstaff anyway we decided to make a stop if they could meet with us. It was only about a mile or two out of our way anyway.
Onward to our destination and we realized that we were driving through a part of Monument Valley. This presented an opportunity for photos and I took advantage of it. Many were taken 'on the run' and a good percentage of those didn't make the cut - either really poorly framed, out of focus, traffic signs in the way, or any of several other glitches.
Once we got to the campground I realized how far away the Canyonlands park was - It's over 3 hours. Since Arches National Park is within 15 minutes we decided to do that instead tomorrow.
And as horrible as the internet was at the previous campground the internet here is great. I think I know why it was bad back at the other place and I plan on sending them an email about my theory.
On to Arches National Park tomorrow.
|Tuesday, September 5 - Arches National Park|
This was indeed a good choice. The variety of things to see continues to amaze us. This was one of those spontaneous changes that made the day easier and more enjoyable.
You can do this park in a minimum of 1-1/2 hours and 4 hours can really cover it well. You can extend that out even more if you do some of the long hikes.
The scenery is spectacular and different from anything we've seen yet. We even braved an 'unimproved road' for a while (we had 4 wheel drive, a full tank of fuel, and high ground clearance) and were rewarded with some different views.
It did make for a shorter day and that was OK because we could use a bit of slack time. It wasn't all slack, I had time to fix the one drawer so it wouldn't go crazy when it pops open on the next transport. I should have taken photos of it.
Onward to our campground near Pike's Peak tomorrow.
|Wednesday, September 6 - Travel Day|
Today was a travel day to our campground near Pike's Peak. The place is really nice from what I can tell so far.
We traveled from Moab to Colorado Springs. There were mountains involved and at one time we were above 11,000 feet. Pulling the trailer put a little challenge into the tow vehicle (F350 Diesel for those who don't already know) but it did the job just fine. I'm glad we won't be pushing it that hard again on this trip.
Fuel consumption was of course also a bit higher. We had to refuel twice, once in Utah and once near our destination. There was a BIG difference in price. It got much less expensive in Colorado.
We'll be off to Pike's Peak on day 44.
|Thursday, September 7 - Pikes Peak|
An interesting day. The climb up Pikes Peak took a bit over an hour. The vehicle had no real problem making the climb but you could tell it was working harder to do the job.
The top of Pikes Peak is about 8,000 feet above our campground. Throughout the climb I could tell things were different - my ears popped several times and breathing became more challenging. Less air pressure means less oxygen and you just have to breathe more to get enough. Doing anything strenuous (like walking across the gift store) became a challenge.
I did another t-shirt buy too. The main text is 'Got Oxygen?'. It seemed appropriate.
I took quite a few photos too. The scenery from way up there is spectacular. It's a shame that there was a haze over it all with smoke from fires throughout the west. At least the haze was much less than it was yesterday.
We thought about riding the Pikes Peak Cog Railway up and back but decided against it for a couple of reasons. One was the $40 each price tag. We're trying to be 'thrifty'.
Tomorrow is a travel and leisure day as we head out (probably late) to our next campground in Golden, Colorado. It's about a 2 hour drive (plus time for lunch) which leaves us a bit of leisure time.
This campground is pretty close to the Colorado Railroad Museum which we are going to see the next day.
|Friday, September 8 - Travel and Leisure Day|
We moved on to our next campground in Golden, Colorado today. Drive time was only about an hour and a half so we left late to arrive after noon.
Dave was restless after lunch so we started cruising around. Dave spotted something called 'Lookout Mountain Road' and decided to follow his instincts. It turned out to be another twisty road up the side of a local mountain = easy after Pikes Peak.
At the top was a nature center with some interesting displays of the local wildlife. These were very well done and you had to keep looking at them to be sure you caught all of the details.
We're going to the Colorado Railway Museum tomorrow.
|Saturday, September 9 - Colorado Railway Museum|
A great place to visit. Lots of locomotives and rolling stock from the Denver & Rio Grand Railroad (and the various other names it had). It's not an all day thing but the cost is very reasonable.
Since today is Saturday we got to ride the Galloping Goose #7 around their loop while the conductor gave a narrative on the Goose. The ride was short (3 times around) but enjoyable. It's history is interesting and worth looking into.
Since this was a short day we cruised around a bit and found lunch, fuel, and the local Camping World. There's always some little thing breaking on the camper.
Onward to our campground at Devils Tower tomorrow and internet access other than through my phone.
|Sunday, September 10 - Devils Tower|
This was really a travel only day but since we got to the campground early, and the campground is literally a stone's throw away from the entrance, we decided to visit Devils Tower today.
But first, the travel. We traveled through Colorado and into Wyoming on I-25 mostly. As you get away from the Denver area things start to change to more open and flat country. By the time you get to Wyoming it gets really flat and becomes mostly cattle farming. No crops that we saw, just cattle. It's obvious that this area gets SOME rain (and snow). Farther north we start seeing evidence of mining.
We quick dropped the trailer and headed to the tower. It's a short drive to the visitor's center (which was closed when we got there) and from that spot you get a very good view of the tower. I took a number of photos from there and along the way too. Since we got there late in the afternoon the sun was just right from the center's viewpoint. Captured a few seconds of video of the birds flying around the top.
Tomorrow's travels take us to the Crazy Horse Memorial, the Mount Rushmore National Memorial, and through the Badlands National Park. All of these are on the path to our next campground.
|Monday, September 11 - Crazy Horse Memorial, Mount Rushmore, Badlands|
A busy day today. All three of these places deserved more time than we could give them but we gave all of them a fair dose of time.
The Crazy Horse Memorial is definitely a work in progress. I sure would like to see it finished but it's not likely to happen in that time span. It is not a government funded work so it's run on whatever they can get in donations and entry fees. I am going to keep my eye on the progress.
Mount Rushmore is one of those places we all know about. Seeing it for real is a different experience. The scale of the project was tremendous. Anyone who says someone else should be added to these presidents is wrong though. It looks just right the way it is.
The Badlands was one of those 'add in' efforts that didn't really take us off our path so it was "Why not?". I'm glad we did. We have seen all kinds of terrain and vegetation but the badlands was something different. There are some odd and varied rock formations that I've not seen anywhere else. Also lots of prairie grasslands with - prairie dogs. These little guys seem to thrive in the area and the surrounding areas. I even saw some in a field next to a fuel station we stopped at.
We're also at an elevation of about 1500 feet for the first time since we were on the Pacific coast. Dave and I agree that the altitude is playing havoc with our bodies and we're glad to be down to more normal altitudes.
We also noticed that the farming in the area is becoming something closer to what we know. For crops we saw corn, sunflowers, and hay. I'm not sure where the sunflowers come in but the others go with the cattle we saw.
When we arrived at the campground we were pretty late - it was after 8:00 PM local time. We lost an hour when we transited from Mountain time to Central time. The office was deserted but our package of info was there so no problem. I think we were the third camper in the park so it is definitely not crowded. We're starting to see things thinning out since it's past Labor Day.
Pure travel day tomorrow to our next campground.
|Tuesday, September 12 - Travel day - mostly|
Today was to be a pure travel day but we did make one 'stop' on the way - the Corn Palace. We were driving right by so we had to pause for a few exterior photos. With the trailer in tow it was not going to be possible to park it anywhere close.
We had our share of other issues today. Our travels were almost pure I-90 and we expected a smooth ride. In South Dakota all went as expected. Then we got to Minnesota and hit the bone shaking washboard roadway. It shook things around (including us) pretty good and we had some issues with the trailer electrical connection.
We moved from the in-bed connector to the bumper one and that worked OK. We just have to be careful not to make any sharp turns. Since we will be traveling a stone's throw away from where the trailer hitch was installed (Elkhart, Indiana) we made arrangements to stop there on Friday to get this issue resolved.
The area is looking a lot more like home. In South Dakota we saw some more varied crops but as we moved into Minnesota it started to look like home - nothing but corn and soybeans. And of course the occasional hay field and pasture. The altitude is also close to home - around 1100 feet. The climate is pretty similar too with a much more 'normal' humidity level.
We're moving on to our next stop tomorrow where we'll stay for 2 days. The Illinois Railrway Museum is the main attraction.
|Wednesday, September 13 - Another travel day|
Just travel today. This is a nice campground but it will be our last. We're staying two nights and then heading HOME!
This one was pretty uneventful and was again mostly I-90.
Dave decided that we needed to do a driveby on the railway museum since its so close. This place is HUGE and we'll have to work hard to cover it. We won't be able to do it all but we are going to try.
|Thursday, September 14 - Illinois Railway Museum and Organ Piper Pizza Palace|
This is our last day before heading home. None too soon I think - because we're both ready to end this trip. It's not because we have any problems with each other. It's because it's time to be HOME.
The Illinois Railway Museum was a bit of a disappointment. I should have checked to make sure they were actually operating. Nope, their season ends with Labor Day when they switch to weekends only mode. The grounds remain open so you can tramp around (and I did) and look at what's outside. Not nearly as good as seeing what is inside though.
The Organ Piper Pizza Palace was what we expected though. Good pizza and pipe organ music. The pizza was thin crust and the organ was a Wurlitzer Theater organ. I ate the whole pizza which is why I'm up at 1:30 in the morning posting this. I'm waiting for the heartburn to subside so I can get some sleep.
We're headed for home tomorrow.
|Friday, September 15 - We're Back!|
We made it back to Ohio from west of Chicago. It was a long day with the stop in Elkhart to get the trailer hitch plug fixed properly (and they did it RIGHT this time). We made a minor detour to the Blue Beacon truck wash in Lodi but that didn't work because there were 8 or 10 trucks in line and that would be an hour plus wait. We ended up at home (Dave's driveway) around 9:00 PM.
This was certainly an interesting adventure. I'll be posting more thoughts of a general nature here in the following days.
It's good to be back!
|Sunday, September 17 - Waiting in the truck wash line|
We got here about 7 PM and there were about 9 vehicles ahead of us. We decided to stick it out and wait. We might get to the front of the line in an hour or so. Good thing we don't have anything important to do.
It's 9:30 and we're through the truck wash and heading home.
|Monday, September 18 - Post Trip Ramblings #1|
Now that the trip is over it's time to reflect on the various aspects of the adventure.
The Great Adventure - turned out to be a pretty good name for it. I cannot imagine why anyone would want to travel outside the United States until they have explored what is right here in our back yard. We only scratched the surface of what is out there and I have no doubt that you could spend several lifetimes investigating it all. There is just so much to SEE and EXPERIENCE out there!
We saw very little wildlife (squirrels don't count) before we got to Yellowstone. It may have been the time of year mostly. I didn't mind too much - I don't really want to encounter a bear up close.
The Best Places - From what we saw and experienced here are my choices for the best places to go. The first few are the places you really should see.
1. Yellowstone - Without a doubt this is the one place you need to go and experience. The tremendous variety of experience here is astounding. Spend at least a week there. Two would be better. We only spent two+ days there and it wasn't enough to really experience the place. It was enough to convince me that I was missing a lot. No real choice on our part though - we had to move on or we would never get back.
2. Yosemite - This is a wonderful place to visit and offers a lot of varied landscape and terrain. In two days you can cover it fairly well but you can easily spend more time searching out the side spots.
3. Giant Redwoods - Until you see some of these up close you can't really imagine the scale of these grand trees. We logged 98+ percent of these before we finally realized that we should stop before they were all gone. It's not uncommon for a tree to be 800 or 1000 years old and it's just not practical to think they'll just grow back. We stayed in a campground that was right along the Avenue Of The Giants and it was interesting to camp among a few real giant redwoods.
4. National Museum of the US Air Force in Dayton Ohio - This one is too close to not visit. Plan on spending TWO full days there. Take it slow and look things over carefully so you don't miss anything.
**** The rest of these are things you should see. They're not in any particular order. ****
5. Petrified Forrest - This is really a neat place to see. A partial day is sufficient for this.
6. Spreckels Outdoor Pipe Organ - An amazing oddity. How do you keep something outside in tune? I'm sure the climate helps. It's an impressive thing to see.
7. San Francisco - I'm not a fan of big cities but this one has so much to offer. You can spend a LOT of time here. Make sure you stay on the SOUTH end of the bridge. It's $7.75 each time you travel from north to south (the other direction is free).
8. Pacific Coast Highway - This isn't a specific destination but it's something you should experience. It doesn't actually run on the coast all of the time but there are opportunities to be right on the ocean.
9. Mount St. Helens - Most of you reading this remember when St. Helens blew it's top. You have to be up close to get a sense of scale for this event. Even then it's hard to imagine how much of the mountain was just blown away. There are still areas that are just flattened trees. There are many areas that are in the process of growing back though.
10. Grand Coulee Dam and Hoover Dam - Grand Coulee is the biggest of the two. A LOT of power comes from here. The tour is limited and doesn't show all that much. It's hard to hide all of those transmission lines outside though. The Hoover Dam tour is pretty good. Grand Coulee generates about three times the power that Hoover Dam does.
11. The Grand Canyon - We did this after Yellowstone and I can't say that I was as impressed as I should have been. It's hard to be impressed by anything after Yellowstone. It's still a great place to visit.
12. Arches National Park - This one was a surprise. It's an amazing display of rock formations that you can do in half a day.
13. Pike's Peak - This will test your vehicle and your own stamina. The air is definitely thinner at 14,000 feet. You need to slow down and take your time with things. There are lots of photo opportunities along the way. The cog railway is an interesting way to get there but it's not cheap.
14. Devils Tower - Certainly not an all day thing but something you should see. We were right outside the main gate in our campground. I have some good morning photos of the tower from our campsite.
15. The Badlands - This was a surprise to me. I though I had seen all kinds of terrain before this. I was wrong. This has some of the oddest terrain anywhere.
That's it for today's ramblings. I have no schedule or specific plans for more but you can expect something to come along.
|Wednesday, September 20 - Post Trip Ramblings #2 - Camping with an RV|
When we started this adventure I knew nothing about this process. I did learn some stuff before we set out but it was definitely a learning process. Fortunately Dave had some experience but not in recent years.
The camper is pretty nice and has it's own refrigerator, a microwave, two TVs (old analog ones) a range, and an oven. There is also quite a bit of storage space.
Our idea of camping involved no cooking and as a minimum of domestic chores as we could get away with. What do you expect from a couple of guys? We ate out mostly and did laundry only when it was absolutely necessary. We did manage to vacuum the carpet before we left and once in the middle of the trip. We will do it again before the next trip.
I did do breakfast that involved pouring cereal in the bowl and getting a glass of orange juice. Dave is not a breakfast person so we usually stopped for something an hour or two down the road.
We didn't use the internal 'facilities' all that much. We relied on those in restaurants and such as much as possible. To be honest, the facilities in a camper are not all that wonderful.
We camped at campgrounds that were at least somewhat civilized. They all had electric and water at least. Some had 'full hookups' which meant they included sewer hookup. We could usually save a few bucks by just going with a Water/Electric only site. Most campgrounds had pretty level sites and it was pretty easy to get things leveled.
There are two common levels of electric service - 30 amp and 50 amp. That doesn't sound all that different but it's a lot more different than at first glance. The 30 amp service is a single phase, single breaker setup. The 50 amp is actually 240 Volt dual breaker setup. The trailer does not use the 240 volts anywhere so the adapter plug just ties the two 50 amp poles together and fakes out the 50 amp connection to the trailer. It sounds kind of sneaky but it does work. We have run both air conditioners and the microwave on just the 30 amp service with no problems. Where it was really hot and we knew we would be running air conditioning pretty hard we always tried to get 50 amp service.
Yes, the trailer has water available in all of the expected places. When you're hooked up at a campground you draw on that source. When you're not then you draw on your storage tank. At least as long as your water pump works. Ours quit about half way through the trip and we decided to live with it and just use water when we were hooked up. It's one of those thing that needs fixing before the next trip.
There are three 'waste' tanks on the RV - one from the kitchen area, one from the shower and bathroom sink, and one from the flush toilet. As you can imagine the one from the toilet (called black water) can get pretty nasty and there is an additive you pour into it to keep the bad odors from getting out of hand. The other two tanks (grey water) don't need any of that so they're pretty easy. Each of these tanks needs to be drained before you move on to the next campground. You drain the black water first and then the two grey water tanks followed by a good flushing out with fresh water. If this sounds like a process that can get interesting - you're right. It doesn't always go smoothly and the best you can hope for is a bit of bad smell. It was never really horrible though.
And you think just hooking up the water feed is easy? Of course not! It's just a potable water rated hose like you would use in your yard. It's got the same connectors. Of course they leak sometimes. But it's only water.
After 30+ campground stays we're pretty proficient with the whole process. We had our problems with leveling and even getting the trailer to latch up with the truck (Note that this is a 5th wheel connection similar to that used by the 18 wheelers). We had problems with the electrical connection between the truck and the trailer. We had bulbs burn out in the tail lights. It was nothing we couldn't overcome though.
Being pretty good at fixing stuff helped a lot. Between us we had a good supply of tools and a few trips to Home Depot supplied screws and such that we didn't have.
Although I don't normally shop there Walmart provided pretty much anything else we needed. They are everywhere and they have almost everything you need or some substitute that will do the job.
Then there are the camping specialty stores, like Camping World, that have all of those specialty items that you can't get anywhere else. We needed a door latch for one that was broken and a closing mechanism for one of the roof vents (at different times). Because pretty much all RVs use the same parts for all of the special things in an RV it's pretty easy to find what you need. It's an amazing situation where nearly all of this stuff is standardized. This is mostly because it all comes from a variety of manufactures all located in the same place - Elkhart, Indiana.
Since we were traveling through Elkhart on the way home we had the ideal opportunity to get a permanent fix for the trailer connection problem we were having. It was an issue with the installation and the shop that did the initial install fixed it - for free.
Enough for this ramble. More to come.
|Friday, September 22 - Post Trip Ramblings #3 - Rocks|
In our own area we don't really have that many significant rocks. I mean ones large enough to smash an auto flat and leave nothing but a smear under it if it fell on you. We certainly experienced LOTS of rocks of significance on our trip.
We traveled along a variety of cliffs with significant rocks throughout the west. There was everything from fist sized up to, and probably larger than, house size. The biggest danger is coming around a curve with a pile of rocks in front of you and oncoming traffic so you can't dodge it. We did a LOT of twisting and turning roads up and down various altitudes, particularly around Yosemite. There were lots of others too.
Signs warning about rockfalls varied a lot too. We saw 'ROCKS', 'WATCH FOR ROCK', 'WATCH FOR FALLEN ROCK', and a variety of pictorial signs. One particular sign was interesting in it depicted a LARGE rock breaking away and falling on an auto.
And of course there were many types and sizes of rock and all kinds of rock formations. We saw a lot of variations including sedimentary sandstone to lava rock.
No, I didn't collect rocks from everywhere we went. I've heard of people doing that though. I did collect LOTS of photos from pretty much everywhere.
|Thursday, October 5 - Post Trip Ramblings #4 - Campgrounds|
There are a lot of aspects to the various campgrounds that I had no concept of before we left. Over time I learned!
We did not camp anywhere that was 'primitive' - we always had at least electric and water. We were not in this for the experience - we wanted COMFORT!
Of the 52 days we stayed in campgrounds 29 were at a KOA (Kampgrounds of America). There were a good number of advantages to KOAs - I could reserve the campground online, usually a couple of nights before, and be sure that we would have a place. They all had the basic necessities like water and electric, sewer hookup if you needed it, flat sites (mostly), rest rooms, showers, laundry room, and of course WiFi. They all had a 'store' with a certain minimum of things.
Not all KOA WiFi is created equal. I never had a problem getting signal at a KOA but a few had issues that caused problems. I usually tried to do my heavy usage (uploading photos to Google Drive) in the middle of the night. Some WiFi was very good too.
In general KOA rest rooms and showers were pretty good but it did vary. Most were more than adequate while a couple were just not up to the usage level that the residents put on them. I rarely had a problem at 4 or 5 AM though
I made a point of visiting each KOA 'store' to see what they had. Some were pretty much minimal while others were extensive. Prices varied from the 'gouging' level to very reasonable.
About half of them had some sort of reasonable food service available. A couple of them were very good too. The steak at the Yellowstone West KOA was excellent!
Another good thing about the KOAs - Dave signed up for a KOA membership and that saved us 10%. It was well worth it. Some other campgrounds accepted other discounts - we used both Good Sam and AAA.
Other campgrounds varied widely. Many were very nice while at least one I wouldn't wish on my worst enemy - the site was not level, the WiFi was out of range, the rest rooms were iffy, and so on. It was cheap though. It also looked like it might be on it's last season (I hope).
Pricing varied widely from about $35 to $90 per night. The general average was around $50 though. The high priced ones were where you would expect them - California.
It was definitely an interesting experience and I learned to look ahead and judge the suitability of campgrounds by the time we were wrapping up the trip. We had no serious issues though so it all ended OK.
|Saturday, October 14 - Post Trip Ramblings #5 - Highways and Driving|
A big part of any trip is the getting there and back. Since we were traveling with an RV trailer we were driving everywhere. Most of the time we were pulling the trailer. Sometimes we parked the trailer and just traveled with the truck to somewhere usually nearby. Dave did 99% (or more) of the driving and 100% of the driving pulling the trailer. I probably have done more but Dave loves to drive so I didn't try to dissuade him from it.
We put over 9,000 miles on the trailer and quite a bit more on the truck itself. Putting this many miles on the truck we had to do some truck maintenance - an oil change for one. And there is fuel - diesel fuel. We put fuel in the tank 45 times. The price ranged from $2.119 (Missouri and Oklahoma) to $3.119 (South Dakota Badlands). The average price per gallon worked out to $2.713. The average fill up was nearly 24 gallons. I made a game of trying to guess how many gallons the fill up would take and was within a gallon about 1/4 of the time.
Highways varied greatly. Almost all of the highways that we took the trailer on were pretty good. We mostly used interstates when we could but there were a few opportunities to take the more 'back' roads. You don't realize how good our own roads in Ohio are until you leave the state. Our roads, at least the interstates, are quite good. The Indiana turnpike is pretty poor - maintenance seems to be an afterthought with this privately run operation. Surprisingly some of the worst interstates were in California. I-5 near Los Angeles was really bad with bone shaking vibration (washboard style). We experienced the same thing in other places too.
The only 'back' road we actually chose to take was in Arches National Park. It was one of those 'I wonder where that goes?' type of moments. It was unpaved and barely more than a single lane wide. We had 4 wheel drive and high ground clearance and a nearly full tank of fuel so why not? It was worth it as we got to see some things from a different perspective.
Although the roads were well paved and maintained the ones near Yosemite were the most challenging - so much back and forth plus the significant altitude changes, both up and down,
One savior for parking was the handicap placard. That thing came in handy so many times! When we were going to park at Mount Rushmore (we were pulling the trailer) the attendant was directing down this hill and told us to park wherever we could find a space along the way. I got this inspiration to quickly hang the handicap placard and we got to park right across from the entrance. It would have been a really long walk otherwise.
Speed limits were another oddity in some places. Once you get west of the Mississippi it's not uncommon for the limit to be 75 or 80. Except in California - if you're towing a trailer then the limit is 55. We saw some areas where the speed limit looked dangerously high for the terrain.
Simple traffic signs varied quite a bit too. In California you would see 'WATCH FOR ROCKS' and in Oregon you see just 'ROCKS'. We saw a few signs that were just pictures too, mostly in the national parks.
For most of the trip bugs on the windshield were not a big problem. An occasional clean off was all that we needed. And then we got to South Dakota and things changed. For one thing the foliage started getting much greener and with that the opportunities for bugs to thrive increased. By the time we got to Wisconsin we needed to bug clean daily. I have photos of the front grille of the truck and the front of the trailer just before we took it into the truck wash after we got back.
Well, this is going to be the end of the ramblings. I have one more REALLY large posting to come in a day or two about how to do this right and avoid most of our pitfalls. We never really had any disasters but we came close a couple of times. Watch for the next article in a couple of days!
|Wednesday, October 18 - How to Do It Right|
As with any endeavor there will be always be problems. Planning can keep the problems down to a minimum and with any luck the problems you do have will all be small ones. There were places where our planning wasn't as good as it should have been and others where it worked great. Our biggest problem was not having enough time to properly plan everything.
I'm going to relate my ideas on how to best plan a trip something like ours. Most of it is common sense and actual experience. You certainly don't have to follow my advice but if it saves you from one minor mistake then it will be worth reading it.
I will assume you are driving this trip - either with or without a travel trailer. There is no better way to see and experience the real America!
How Long Do You Have?
Depending on how many weeks you have for your trip I have some suggestions on where to go. I assume that you can instantly travel to the first stop and you should probably figure on 3 days out and 3 days back from wherever you end up.
1 Week - No doubt about my choice. Go to Yellowstone. The only possible addition would be to spend the first day in the Grand Tetons.
2 Weeks - Start with the Grand Canyon. Plan on a full day to give it a good look - more if you like to hike the trails.
If you're driving also make a pass at the Petrified Forrest - it's on the way and it will only add an hour or so to your drive.
Travel to Moab, Utah and visit Arches National Park. This is a real gem and you can get a good look in half a day. If you like to hike then expect to use a full day. You will be traveling through parts of Monument Valley on the way so make sure you take in the scenery.
Next on the list is the Grand Tetons. There are lots of trails and a lot to see here if you can spend a day.
And of course next is Yellowstone. It's easy to spend a week here exploring all of the areas and hiking some of the trails. You MIGHT be able to cover most of the trails if you had all summer.
3 Weeks - Start with the '2 Weeks' plan. Add on (to the end) Devil's Tower, Crazy Horse Memorial, Mount Rushmore Memorial, and a drive through the Badlands. Stop at the Corn Palace in Mitchell, South Dakota. Add in a day in Wisconsin Dells as an option. A stop in Mesa Arizona for dinner at the Organ Stop Pizza is a good option too.
4 Weeks - Use the '3 Weeks' plan and add some time to Yellowstone. Add extra days elsewhere as fits your pleasure. Definitely add Wisconsin Dells and the Organ Stop Pizza in the plans.
5 Weeks or more - Other than what's in the '4 Weeks' plan I would be guessing at what you might like. The stuff in the '4 Weeks' plan should appeal to most everyone. If you have a longer time available then you will need to do more of your own planning. Start by adding things to the '4 Weeks' list and just keep adding until you run out of ideas. Once you have a list you should just add everything into the list and then start weeding out things that aren't as important to you - unless you have time for all of it (lucky you!).
You MUST plan your weeks to have no more than 6 active days. No matter how tough you think you are you do need a rest day from time to time. There is also that occasional unexpected problem that you will have to spend time solving. If you want to make this a more leasurely trip then plan for a 5 day week. There is nothing wrong with spending the day by the pool or on a shopping trip to Wal Mart, Costco, or Camping World. Also, more idle days lets you adjust your plan without disturbing the overall schedule too much.
Expect your plan to change. It WILL happen. It may seem like a great idea to reserve all of your places to stay ahead of time but it will be a disaster to your ability to make changes. I rarely made reservations for campgrounds more than a couple of days ahead. The only time I was worried was when our schedule put us near the Grand Canyon on Labor Day weekend. That one was close and I'm glad I was working on it 4 days ahead.
When to Go
In the summer of course! I'm sure there are other restrictions but between Memorial Day and Labor Day are the best times to visit these places. There are exceptions of course but this is the time when everything is open and ready for us tourists. Don't forget that you ARE a tourist. You can expect to be overcharged for some things but there will be exceptions where you will be treated fairly. In some places things just cost more. Other places (like Oklahoma for fuel) cost less.
A more important part of 'When' is how soon. The first year you can manage it is the best time. Do it while you're still young enough to actually do the hiking and other sometimes physically challenging things. Do NOT let those challenges stop you from going though. Seeing these places at age 65 was still much better for me than never seeing them. Pictures and videos do not do any of these places real justice. You have to actually be there to truly appreciate the scale and beauty of these places. You would also miss some of the silly little things that are the very makeup of Americana.
Pitfalls to Avoid and Ideas to Pursue
Don't try to do too much. Make sure you plan in 'slack' time to just stop and smell the roses. It's better to leisurely do a few things than to cram in too many and not do any of them properly.
Keep the driving to something you can actually do EVERY DAY. I kept it to 8 hours even though Dave insisted that he could easily do more. I tried for 6 most times.
Don't be afraid to try the occasional local eatery. We only did it just a few times but only had a bad experience once or twice. A couple of them were very good too so it was worth the gamble. It can only be bad once (because you won't go back). Avoid the tourist trap eateries if you can. The worst tourist trap eateries we found were in the national parks - they were expensive and not all that good. We did eat mostly in 'name brand' eateries like Denny's, Pizza Hut, IHop, and even McDonald's when there wasn't anything else. Don't forget to try out the 'name brand' eateries that don't exist in our area.
Stay off the 'back' roads. It's not worth getting lost down some road that looks reasonable on the map but turns out to be a one lane mud pit. It's OK to stray off the interstates onto good roads but expect the travel time to go up significantly. Your reward will be seeing things you never thought you would see and sometimes didn't want to see. Both can lead to interesting memories and stories.
Watch the speed limits. The LAST thing you want is a ticket (or worse) in some backwoods town. Pay attention to stop signs and traffic signals too.
Watch the fuel gauge. You do NOT want to run out! Yes, AAA (you do have AAA right?) has agents everywhere but if you've ever called them while you're in an urban area just think how long it will take them to get to some point 50 miles from the nearest town.
READ THE REVIEWS of places you are going to stay at. There are some pretty awful places out there and the reviews can help steer you away from them. The worst campground we stayed at could have been avoided if I had had the time to read the review first. If we had paid the few extra bucks for a full hookup site we would have been fine though.
The person sitting next to the driver MUST be a navigator first. If you're busy looking for great photos instead of navigating you WILL miss that next turn. Tell your driver well ahead of time that you want to stop for a photo opportunity - or other need.
I consider a good GPS a must. If Dave were running things we would have been using a hard copy map all of the time. That usually works but if you get off course the GPS can get you straightened out very quickly.
Expect construction and traffic delays. They will be part of the trip. Don't let them bother you - just take them in stride and don't let them bother you. You're on VACATION and aren't really tied to a fixed schedule - you shouldn't be anyway.
Traveling with kids (or grownups acting like kids)? Give them something to do! The back seat is not the ideal spot to sightsee from but I thought of this as something I wish I could have done myself. Take photos of any sign that seems a bit off - or take pictures of ALL of the signs and sort them out later. The number of unusual signs by the side of the road that we saw was amazing. The story a 'sign' show could tell could be pretty interesting.
Planning, Planning, Planning, and More Planning
I can't stress enough the need to plan this out. The longer the trip the more planning you need. If you're going next year you need to start planning NOW.
For example, you're going to do the '1 Week' plan and just visit Yellowstone and maybe the Grand Tetons. You need to plan the following:
I did a quick plan of this trip using Furkot in about 15 minutes. I didn't plan where to stay but I had the basics of the route in that time. Furkot will also show you where you need to stop for the day based on how long you said you wanted to drive. I am an experienced Furkot user so plan on taking a few hours to get the feel of how to use it before you try planning anything for real. It is a very useful tool and it's what I used to plan our trip. And besides, the price is right - FREE!
I didn't include anything about packing clothes and other essentials. You should bring at least a light jacket but you shouldn't need anything heavy. Check the weather forecasts ahead of time to judge what you need.
Don't overlook staying in campgrounds even if you're not pulling a trailer. Most of them have cabins of varying levels of 'primitive' - anything from just a bed (bring your own sheets) to fully air conditioned with your own bathroom and kitchen. You can also tent camp if you really want to go primitive - and cheap. Explore the options!
Don't forget to check out what else is in the area you are staying or along the way between places. Sometimes you can find something completely unrelated to the main plan that won't cost much time.
Yellowstone and Other National Parks
Visiting Yellowstone is a unique experience but there are similarities to all of the national parks. The standard entrance fee is $30 which gets you a 7 day pass. Some parks are less (Devils Tower was only $15). Both Dave and myself bought senior passes ($10) before we left on this trip and it got us in most of the national parks for FREE. If you're not yet 62 then you can get an annual pass for $80 - a good deal if you're going to go to several of the national parks. The price of the senior pass has gone up since we left - it's now $80 for the lifetime pass. That's still a good deal and would have been worth it for us too.
Yellowstone has four main entry points - north, east, south, and west. We stayed near the west entrance and covered the park from there. When we left the area we went through the park and exited out the south entrance.
If you're staying for at least a week I recommend that you don't stay in the same place the whole time. Do some planning on where you want to go in the park and pick your places to stay accordingly.
We saw very little wildlife variety. We saw no bears or elk (maybe one) but LOTS of bison and a few mule deer. And of course various birds and squirrels. I expect that if you do any hiking you would see much more wildlife.
And concerning wildlife - BEARS ARE DANGEROUS. When you enter the park they will hand you some information and a map. If they don't offer it make sure you ask for it! In the literature is some information on bears and how to treat them. The information is also on the park web site so you can do some research ahead of time. There is a lot of good information in there particularly if you plan on hiking. DO NOT HIKE ALONE! Groups of three or more are recommended. Elk, bison and even mule deer are also dangerous. Observe them all from a distance.
The roads in the parks are generally pretty good. There WILL be construction but this is usually done at night so as to minimize disruption. Sometimes one lane is closed off and you have to take turns going each direction. Don't let it bother you - you're on VACATION.
Plan something simple for the first day. Get the map and use it to plan the rest of your days here.
Cameras - Taking Pictures and Videos
This is an area that I have a great interest in. I would have liked to taken along a $5000 camera setup but that was not in the budget. That's probably just as well as I was very happy with what I did have. My first decent camera was a Canon AE-1 SLR. It takes film pictures and in it's day it did a great job. Before I was planning this trip I had a 16 megapixel 'snap' camera - a Canon Powershot A2500. It takes good photos and has a 5X optical zoom. I paid a little under $100 for it. I was looking for something a little better and had seen something interesting at BJs Wholesale Club - a Canon SX530. The features were impressive - 16 megapixels (nothing new there), a 50X (!) optical zoom, image stabilization, and a price of $249. It sounded like just the thing for the upcoming trip. I thought it over for a couple of days and then went back to get one. The price was low because they were trying to move them before the replacement model came along. It's a little bigger then the A2500 but the 50X zoom (the price too) is what really attracted me.
I had bought a 32 gigabyte card for the A2500 which had an 8 gigabyte card. I decided the 32 gigabyte card belonged in the new camera. I was going to bring the A2500 anyway but didn't expect to be using it much - it turned out to be not at all. I knew that I could also add filters if I bought an adapter ring. I found the adapter, a filter set (Polarizer, Skylight, and Neutral Density), and a bigger lens cap on eBay for around $30 total. I also ordered a couple of extra batteries and a charger we could run on 12 volt car power. I ended up with a bit over $300 in the camera and accessories.
With a 32 gigabyte card I could take nearly 7000 photos without cleaning up the stuff on the card. I figured that would probably be enough. I was right - I used a little less than half of it even with videos added.
Dave liked the camera too but was hesitant to spend the money. He thought about using his Canon A-1 and slide film - until we figured out what it would cost to buy the film and get it processed. At $11 per roll of film and $17 for processing doing only 20 rolls (720 photos) would cost far more than the new camera would. It turned out to be an easy choice. Dave now also owns the same camera.
Taking digital photos is a bit different than film. With film you would take time to compose the shot and make sure everything was in focus and just the way you want it. With digital photos you just snap away taking any conceivable shot and not worrying about focus (the camera does that for you) and changing zoom at will. You can just sort it out later. You do end up taking a bunch of useless shots but better to have taken extras than to not gotten the one you really wanted.
Picture Format - In my experience the ONLY way to take a photo is in landscape mode (long side left to right) UNLESS IT'S REALLY NECESSARY to take it in portrait mode. When you look at it on your computer screen or that big screen on the wall it will never look right in portrait mode.
Video Format - the same thing applies, DOUBLE, for videos. There is not much worse than viewing a video that only takes up the middle third of the frame. I made the mistake of taking a few videos in portrait mode. It was definitely a mistake that I realized before the end of the trip and didn't do it again.
Memory cards are cheap - if you buy them in the right place. Best Buy is NOT the place to go. I bought two 32 gigabyte cards for about $30 (BJs) before we left. I never used them but I no doubt will some time in the future.
You are bringing a laptop computer with you right? Make sure you have all of the cables and software installed so you can transfer your photos EVERY DAY. That way if something happens to the camera you will have all of the photos up to that point already saved. And if you're paranoid like I am you also copy all your photos from the laptop to a separate USB memory stick - and to your friend's laptop too. You can never have too many backups!
You think I'm paranoid? I took it one step farther - I copied all of my photos, when it was possible, up to the cloud on my Google Drive space. I usually set this up to happen in the wee hours of the morning so as not to monopolize the WiFi when others might be using it.
One last rant - DO NOT DEPEND ON YOUR CELL PHONE FOR PHOTOS! It makes a good emergency backup but it does not take good photos. I don't care if you have the latest iPhone that is supposed to take great pictures. It's STILL a very primitive camera. If you MUST use it PLEASE use landscape mode! You will like the result, such as it is, much more.
The Laptop Computer
I consider bringing my laptop with me a must. It was where I could, at the very least, download the photos from my camera. It's worth it for that and for this function alone - no internet access is required. Just as important to me was the ability to rework the plan and make campground reservations. That required internet access but that was generally no problem at most places we stayed - WiFi was readily available. I used it for many more things (I'm a computer geek!) but those two things were the most important.
I did not buy my current laptop (or any other laptop I've owned) new. There are plenty of good laptops out there for sale on eBay that will serve my needs for a LOT less than their original owners paid. I bought the laptop itself and a new battery and an extra power supply for it. I still had much less than $200 in it. I did a lot of research of what to buy in the price range I wanted before searching on eBay for it.
The actual laptop I'm using is a Lenovo Thinkpad T520 with 4 GB of RAM, a 250 GB hard drive, and a DVD R/W drive. It came with Windows 7 Professional (with official COA) installed which suited my tastes perfectly (I don't like Windows 10 but it would run it). Why Lenovo? There a LOT of them out there and a lot of spare parts. The 'T' series are really tough - 'T' means the case is made of Titanium which is both light and rugged. The '5' means a 15 inch screen and the '20' tells about the model year. The bigger the number the newer it is. It of course comes with all of the other usual laptop things like WiFi and several USB ports. I HIGHLY recommend selecting a Lenovo Thinkpad, and the 'T' series, since they are plentiful and were likely used in a corporate environment before coming to eBay. Frequently the seller has a large lot of them. Watch to make sure you get a complete one - some are sold without hard drives which can be a bad deal if you don't have an install disk. Other missing or broken components are also grounds to skip it. There are all kinds of pitfalls to this process but use common sense. If it sounds too good to be true it probably is.
Of course if you already have a laptop then you probably don't need a 'new' one. Use what you have as long as it has the ability to download your camera's photos and can hook up to the internet via WiFi. Also make sure it has room on the hard drive to hold all of the photos you are going to take.
I've spilled out this stuff for long enough I think. It's taken 3 days for me to get this all put together and I think it's time to wrap it up.
There are so many ways things can go wrong on a long trip away from home. You have to try to remember to bring everything and you will no doubt miss something. Make sure you have all of those things that you couldn't replace along the way. Medications in particular are important to have. Make sure you have at least an extra week's worth. If it's something little that you can find at the Wal Mart just go there (or anywhere else that would work) and buy it. Wal Mart, CVS, and Walgreens are everywhere. It's not worth worrying about missing it or trying to save 20 cents if you went somewhere else. Your time is precious on your trip!
Don't try to do it all on one credit card. You may loose it or hit the limit before you run out of trip. Make sure you have a backup with you. You know how paranoid I am about backups - I had three.
Check out the alerts that your credit card accounts have. I turned on the one that alerted me for EVERY gas station charge. It was kind of handy sometimes.
Cell phones - some places out west have ZERO cell service no matter which carrier you have. Some carriers serve remote areas better than others. My service was through T-Mobile as the carrier. Dave had AT&T. Sometimes neither of us had service. Depending on how important your cell service is to you may dictate that you get a temporary phone on another carrier.
Forget cell service in Yellowstone except near the main visitor centers. There is NO service in general. This is also true for most national parks. It's supposed to be the wilderness!
I welcome comments (and questions) on all of this. I'll gladly talk about any particular place or places and help you through getting familiar with Furkot. Without Furkot this would have been a very difficult trip to plan and keep moving. It was a real lifesaver. The best email for me is: bmferry -at- gmail.com.