Custer Country

Custer Country

We will be back! Two weeks in Custer was terrific, but not long enough. The town was great, people were friendly, and we arrived in time for Gold Rush Days – which meant another parade as well as in-town festivities! Don’t miss the Buglin’ Bull restaurant…

In no particular order (below,) I’ve included a few pix and brief descriptions from the highlights. Beginning with the end of our visit, we drove to Deadwood, just north of Custer through some very pretty Black Hills NF country. We met friends from my working days at the Iron Horse Inn.  The Inn has a particular connection to our family since it was owned and operated by our son-in-laws mother’s parents (the Wagner family).

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Seems the geology of the Black Hills is such that it contains many caves. In particular the Jewel Cave and Wind Cave.  We made the underground trek through part of the Wind Cave which is noted for its unique ceiling box structure unlike the usual stalactites. An hour and a half underground was sufficient, so we passed on the Jewel Cave. Something left for the next trip.

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A Balloon Fest was part of the town’s celebration…we watched from lift off to touch down. With 10 balloons, it provided a sampling of what we expect to see at the Albuquerque Balloon Fest in October.

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We were fortunate to have reservations at the Wagon West RV park and 7th Calvary Café. Can’t say enough good things about the Park or the Café…. super friendly owner/staff, delicious food – don’t miss the breakfast! And, a view out our front window that we never tired of. This was the site of General Custer’s encampment, and is so noted on the monument just across from us… We had many pleasant evenings and mornings watching the deer feeding, and the fawns playing, in the field in front of us.

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What to say about the donkeys? They wander wild in Custer State Park where we spent a lot of time wildlife watching.  That they wander wild, doesn’t suggest the degree to which they are friendly!  Stop the car, get out, and you will have a dear friend looking for a pet – or a scratch behind the ear!

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One of several day trips took us around the Needles Loop – by car NOT by RV – a beautiful drive and spectacular scenery of rock formations, vistas and narrow rock tunnels… one way and about wide enough, tall enough for a car or pickup truck.

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Of course, we couldn’t pass up the Crazy Horse Monument or Mt Rushmore. I have to say, of the two, the Crazy Horse Monument was much more impressive both in scale and in the visitor’s center. What the Korczak Zidkowski family has built in addition to the mountain carving he started (first blast) in 1948 is amazing.

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Coming back to Custer State Park – it wouldn’t be a visit without time spent watching the Bison. Now, I’d rather not be the guy on the motorcycle… but they passed him by without incident – lucky man. These are wild animals weighing up to 1,200 lbs. And mating season was underway. We watch old bulls fighting and chasing the younger ones out of the herd.  Females were tending calves, some of whom were still nursing. What a great time to be at the Park!

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As I noted at the beginning … We will for certain be back!

PUZZLES and more…

PUZZLES and more…

Puzzles are supposed to be fun. They offer mental stimulation and challenge without consequences. If only RV itinerary planning was just such a puzzle. Alas, there are consequences to failing to solve the puzzle, and the challenge is multiplied several fold by an assortment of other folks who get to decide, seemingly at random, whether you have a place to stop (i.e. park your home) for the time you plan. So, the simple task of routing our 38ft motor home, with tow, from point A to point B can take on a herculean quality. For the experienced RVrs, I’ll acknowledge upfront the Walmart et al options. So, yes, there are safe places to land that require little or no advanced planning. But, parking lots are not the scenery most of us are seeking.

Planning around distance/time calculations, costs, clearance and weight limitations, road conditions, weather, scheduled events and seasonal availability, AND available/suitable campground space is but part of the puzzle. In some instances, RV park reservations need to be made months in advance. And, it takes only one of those conditions to completely alter the route and/or timing. The more you travel, the greater the complexity.

Now the good news. It is all worth it 🙂 We are blessed to have the ability and the time to travel across our Country. There are so many remarkable places to experience, and we are working our way to see as much as we can, and to visit many friends along the way. Since we sold and left our Maryland home last April, we have travelled through Virginia, North Carolina, Tennessee, Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi, Arkansas, Missouri, Kansas, Nebraska, Wyoming, and South Dakota. At each stop, whether for a day or a week or more, we have created memories to carry with us and experiences to share with family and friends.

Catching up a bit… since about the end of June, we’ve travel through Wyoming to our current ‘home’ in Custer, South Dakota. It took us to Rock Springs, Pinedale, Jackson, thru Yellowstone NP, Cody, and Casper. Wyoming is such an amazing area of the Country with spectacular scenery around every bend. In addition, we got to meet good friends along the way, several of whom we had not seen in about 10 years. The following captioned pix will provide just a taste of this part of our journey.

  

In Pinedale I had the fun of showing Denise Trappers Point and the story about Pronghorn migration patterns – and the ‘wildlife overpass’ constructed to move the thousands of animals safely along their seasonal path between summer and winter range.

We made a brief stop in Jackson to visit a former boss and friend – had a delightful breakfast conversation before heading up thru Yellowstone. The YNP plan was to drive through to Cody with the motor home, then return to tour by car.

Found some late Spring snow along the way …

Way to much beauty to try to capture in a few photos…and assorted wildlife along the way – more about bison later …..

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Amazing hot springs, but the summer tourist crowds made a visit to Old Faithful impossible….couldn’t get near the parking areas for that and other sights. But we found beauty everywhere…

Then came Cody…. If you want a good ‘western’ time, come to Cody for the 4th of July!  But make your reservations early….

We got VERY lucky to get a spot at an RV park in town. With all the folks in for the celebration, and the traffic through to YNP, it is a busy time.  We did two rodeos (Denise’s first), two huge parades, fireworks and other assorted activities. In addition, we spent a great evening and breakfast with good friends. Visiting with them was way past due and made for a beautiful ride up the canyon …

The parades – all three, but we only saw 2 – we’re great, and quite different from what you would see back east….

Sat up on the hill overlooking an amazing fireworks show…

..and a spectacular sunset..

And then there were the rodeos…. What great fun!

 

 

They even got all the kids in the act to try to catch the ribbon off the tail of a calf – sorry I missed that action…

Visits to Cody, and with Cody friends always are too short! We had a great time, but needed to move along. Next stop was Casper. Interestingly, at the Izaak Walton League Chapter’s RV park. Made interesting since I had worked as the National Conservation Director for the Ike — different to come to a chapter as a visitor…and paying guest.  Casper was in part a work stop. We got a minor recall service at the Freightliner shop, as well as general engine service having just turned 5,000 miles.

The Casper RV park folks were great and it made for a good rest stop.

Lots left out, but on to Custer, SD …. and promised bison pix …. See next post!

Dam fun !

Dam fun !

We made a few stops on the way from Kansas to Cody, Wyoming, including Rock Springs, Pinedale and Jackson as well as a pleasant trip through Yellowstone NP. With a little extra time, we made a quick day trip to the Flaming Gorge Dam from Rock Springs.

The dam captures the Green River and creates a huge and beautiful reservoir. For the geology buffs, the associated canyon walls, cut by the Green River, expose rocks over 1 billion years in age.

 

Apart from the remarkable engineering feat required to construct the dam, the beauty of the area is well worth the visit. The Visitors Center provides the fascinating story of its construction and the surrounding geology. For those interested, it also created a wonderful fishery.

 

Then there was the Buffalo Bill Dam. Built on the Shoshone River after rather remarkable technical and other struggles including the first labor dispute/strike. The dam, just West of Cody, was named for William “Buffalo Bill” Cody. Completed in 1910, it was the tallest concrete dam in the world – and no steel rebar was used in the construction. Nearly 90,00 acres below the dam were opened to agriculture as a result of the irrigation waters it provided.
The visitor’s center allows for a trip down the inner workings of the dam to the thundering spillway, as well as an excellent video describing the construction. Keep in mind there was little in the way of mechanical help at the time of its construction – enormous human labor was all that was available.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

If you look carefully at the top of the dam picture, you will see a small human figure providing a sense of scale.
In addition to this amazing structure, a visit to nearby Cody is always worth the time – a step into western culture and history.

 

Freedom Isn’t free?

Most think that retirement means ‘freedom’ – freedom to do all those things that work and family responsibilities constrained over the years. Reality may present issues with that notion.  Is it free in a monetary sense? Is it free in an emotional capitol sense?

Being able to recognize and pay for all the costs is pretty fundamental to gaining that freedom we worked for. Well, it’s pretty easy to do the accounting for the monetary issues. Money in – money out will define the options and limits.

Deciding to become house-less and full-time travelers in our new motor home brought focus to a range of other issues.  It’s a test of priorities and relationships. We learn things about ourselves – not always as positive as we’d like. If we’re careful observers, we see a steady flow of changes that come with all the new experiences each day, and with introspection about our life’s choices. We discover there may be new and better ways to approach life given these new circumstances. And, we aren’t 20 something anymore, so limits on some activities can be frustrating.

Above all, the single most important quality to cultivate, when sharing the confined space of a 38ft motor home, is a robust sense of humor! Days will rarely go as planned. The second quality is patience, followed quickly by flexibility. New places won’t always be how the brochures and web pages describe – occasionally better, sometimes not.  I’m reminded of a saying taught to me by my wise old dad … ‘patience is a virtue, seldom found in women, never found in man’ – thus the reason I place sense of humor first!

Lest this becomes a dreary post, here’s a bit of an update,. With these thoughts in mind, we arrived near Kansas City for a last family visit till the holidays. It was a wonderful two weeks filled with fun activities. We toured a distillery, a brewery, a zoo and a museum among other assorted activities.

We found a delightful RV park a bit south of the city that met all our expectations.

It was a quiet spot, clean with full utilities and pleasant neighbors.

The Kansas City zoo is spectacular with an assortment of interesting critters…

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

.. and fun for young and old(er) …

 

Too many pics to include of the tours, but learning how some of our favorite adult beverages are brewed was fascinating.

 

Both tours were very well done and generous with the sampling!

 

Long days were topped off with good visits with the kids and pleasant evenings. As it turns out, we were there for our wedding anniversary. Kids ‘baby sat’ the dog while we had a wonderful dinner at a delightful restaurant ……..

 

We’re now parked in Wamego, KS, a short drive west of KC, and a different experience….more in a minute. We stopped here to visit good friends who we hadn’t seen in several years – always fun to catch up. They are both experts on grasslands ecology and its denizens, especially upland game birds (one of my favorite topics) and local history of the Kansas Flint Hills.

Wamego is the capitol (or is it a portal?) for OZ and a classic mid-west small town. A beautiful town park, well done monuments and of course an OZ museum…

    

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

   

-Scarecrow was always my favorite…

 

Back to Calvin.  He developed his RV park surrounded by Caterpillar’s largest factory, several rows of storage sheds and an active railroad line just across the street. The 4am train announces it passing with an extended whistle. And we got to sample  the tornado siren test in mid-day….. just balance for the previous digs! In any event, all the local bird life and rabbits are keeping Cricket – our Brittany pup – quite busy.

One more stop, a bit to the north in Nebraska, then on westward…. more later

On the way now – really!

On the way now – really!

 

       RVing is daily routine, interrupted by remarkable moments of joy, beauty and other life affirming experiences. Learn to appreciate the routine as valued balance, and to view the calm as valuable as the special moments.
Accept the occasional crisis as impersonal and inevitable.
I’m reminded of the Hagar cartoon — ship wrecked in the middle of the storm he asks “why me?” And gets the answer from the sky “why not?”

At last we’re on the road – well actually since May 26. All the local home and business stuff is done, and weather is cooperating. Our first stop was in Verona, VA at Shenandoah RV Park on the Middle River and convenient to visit Tom, a friend and professional colleague, just down the road. We spent a pleasant evening at his home. Our dogs got some serious play time, Tom and I got caught up, and Tom’s wife provided an outstanding dinner – all-in-all a delightful evening and a good start.  The Park was a very pretty spot if the sites were a bit tight. The Falls, fishing and rabbits compensated!

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Next stop was Williamsburg, VA at the American Heritage RV Park. We treated ourselves to a ‘premier’ site and spent 10 days visiting with family – Abby and Jim.

Topping the list of activities was a night of steamed Blue Crabs  FB_IMG_1492344608706

 

 

 

 

 

…Also, a re-visit to the Williamsburg Winery, and a day at the Maritime Museum and beer fest. IMG_2967

And, one year old Cricket got a birthday cake (May 13th) – Thank you Abby!

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Next stop was a Harvest Host site – The Tennessee Valley Winery.  HH is a neat program which allows a small number at a time, usually 1-4, RVers to boondock at farms, wineries and other such private places. Sampling and purchasing the products is encouraged!

 

We lucked out on their schedule and got a live music program right next to the coach…  While stays at HH site are generally for only one night, the kind folks at TVW offered us an extended stay – then, we did really like their wines !    20170513_204039.jpg

Made new friends … 20170513_175827

So, after a one day stay, we moved on heading for the Tiffin factory in Alabama. Seems Lookout Mountain is about at the half way mark near Charlottsville, so we took a couple days at the Raccoon Valley RV park. Not far from Lookout Mtn – well worth the stop should you come this way.

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With doggie day care close at hand, we also spent a fascinating day at the Maritime Museum. Where part of the fun was watching the otters……

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Then it was time for Red Bay and our very short punch list of items to correct. Tech folks there were great – efficient and helpful. “Camping” at the Tiffin service center is a parking lot, but with full hookups and lots of knowledgeable Tiffin owners. It also afforded the opportunity to tour the factory to see these fine coaches being built (way too many pix to post! )– and to visit with the owner, Bob Tiffin, who was very generous with his time.

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Not too far from Red Bay is the Key Underwood Coon Dog Cemetery established on a favorite hunting camp. I’ll grant you that would seem to be a pretty minor blip in otherwise adventurous travels. But that’s only if you don’t understand the high regard with which sportsmen hold their dogs – whether treeing racoons, pointing upland birds or retrieving waterfowl. This was a must see! And so, here are a few picture memories from there …

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Cricket paid her respects to fellow working dogs ……

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As Memorial Day would arrive soon, flowers were found on20170517_145351 nearly all the markers. The markers themselves were varied and some quite unique…..the camera found a flag behind Daisy’s  metal cutout marker …. seemed quite appropriate.

 

 

 

 

**Note: Key Underwood buried Troop here in 1937 after 15 years of a hunting partnership. Others followed. Only ‘coon’ dogs are allowed to be buried here– lest the ground be ‘contaminated with assorted lap dogs’.

 

Every Labor Day there’s a celebration to remember these remarkable dogs – I think it may mean a trip back!

So now we are at a pleasant RV park just south of Kansas City – a planned stop to visit kids and one of our favorite grand kids. More particularly, we are at the Peculiar Park Place RV Park.  Think I’ll leave that hanging……google Peculiar, MO if you just have to know more!

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And as a sat down to work on this post, the severe storm alert sounded…..heavy rain, hail and a bit of gusty wind, but no harm done and all’s well again.

Heading mostly west in a couple weeks. More ramblings later……..

Ready , set….. and her side

What have I done!!  We chronicle the outward steps of dreaming, buying  an RV, selling a house , sorting, packing, planning.  We fret about insurance, how to get our mail and Wi-Fi connections.  Those day to day problems we must handle take our time and energy, leaving us with nothing but the dark hours of the night to face the real issues.  I have five children, their spouses and eight grandchildren.  That is 18 people that enrich my life.  I have worked for 30 years with friends who have supported me through professional and personal adversities. I have a 97 year-old father for whom I have provided support and comfort for the 21 years since Mom died.  How can I walk away from that?  How do I shake the feeling I am abandoning them?  Where is my strength to leave the friends that support me? Who will help me find the balance when my husband and I fight?  What if I am not there to see my grandchild beam with pride after an accomplishment.  What if those I love need me! How do I leave the life I have built?

And – I am tired.  I have hosted 21 years of Christmas gatherings.  Despite the support and help from my children, I ran full out for the days of their visit.  Then I washed every sheet and towel I owned before heading back to work.  Then I did it again  each summer. At work I gave my all, often for more then eight hours a day.  On  weekends I trekked to check on my father. I have lived the busy life of a working woman with a husband, home and responsibilities.  I knew it was taking a toll on my health and I ignored the signs.  I did not know how to stop and was afraid of what I would lose.

We have all heard the advice to live in the present. Look forward, not back. Savor the moment. After tears and angst,  I accept it is time for me to rest and heal.  I will trust that my bonds with family and friends will endure. I believe that others with more energy than me will step up to keep my small world turning.  I bow to my age, say “yes” to this next stage in my life.  Let the RV roll and the adventures  begin!

Ready, set,……set,…….

First step was an early delivery. Back last Fall we committed to the decision to go exploring the Country as soon as Denise could retire. We cemented that decision with the purchase of a 2017 Tiffin Phaeton 36GH motor home. Since it was a factory order and had yet to be built, we planned on taking delivery sometime in March of this year. Then the phone rang in November. Seems our coach would be at the dealer in N Tonawanda, NY by the end of the month .. ‘when did we want to come get it?’  So, ready or not, off to NY we went after scrambling to get a towable car.

 We were now the proud owners (along with the bank) of a brand new Tiffin motor home – no looking back.

That set in motion a series of related activities and what we assumed would be time consuming delays. House went on the market expecting at least a couple months breathing space. House sold in 2 weeks. A short timeline to get what we were keeping into storage and disposing of the rest. The process of upgrading my driving license to comply with Maryland MVA rules took a bit longer, and actually was accomplished just days before we had to vacate the house, move into the coach, and move it to an RV park – step 2.

Granite Hills RV Park – Fairfield, PA

Given the early season, the closest open  park meant an hour commute for Denise to work. It was about 10 days before a local park opened, which is where we sit as I write this (Yogi Bear RV Park).

Finally, step 3, the day came for her official retirement, and life began to improve.  

That said, she had promised to remain available for training and consulting for at least a couple weeks.

Fellow traveler, Cricket, was beginning to become impatient…….

 

So, now we wait. Time is spent doing the odd errands, arranging and re-arranging addresses, insurances (never simple), and planning our early travel with stops on the way to the Tiffin factory in Red Bay, AL – a visit with friends, a stop to see family, and a bit of sightseeing.

With all arrangements done and reservations made, our departure date is finally set for April 27th ! Barring last minute issued, it is now a “Go” – step 5.

Stay tuned for reports along the way: Verona, VA, Williamsburg, VA, FT Chiswell, TN and Loudon, TN, Chattanooga, TN for a few days, then Red Bay.

 

Reviews:

Granite Hills RV park (Fairfield, PA) – 10 day stay, FH 50a. Friendly, helpful folks. Pleasant atmosphere and scenery. Modest, roomy sites on gravel – well maintained. Did not use bath/shower facilities.

Yogi Bear/Jellystone RV park (Williasmport, MD) – Friendly staff, lots of kid activities, store and café. Gravel sites, easy in/out, well maintained. Sites, a bit narrow for the price, included table and fire pit. Opening weekend – lots of kids! Then dead quiet ……