Service time out — or fun in Red Bay!

Service time out — or fun in Red Bay!

Being on the road full time in our motor home continues to be a great life style. We enjoy the freedom to go on a whim to interesting places, and the minimal upkeep of a smaller living space. But every abode, whether sticks and bricks or rolling house, requires maintenance. Imagine for a moment loading a fully functional small house on a tractor trailer and driving a couple thousand miles down not so great roads — feels a bit like a minor earthquake. Things get loose, and engines need some care.

Thus, we find ourselves in Red Bay, Alabama, home of the Tiffin factory, for our semi-annual checkup and some minor warantee work. Given the season when many RVers (snowbirds) are heading south for the winter, including lots of Tiffin owners with the same plans as ours, the service campground is full with spill over into other sites around town. So here we sit among about 90 of our fellow travelers waiting our turn to get into a service bay — approaching 2 weeks and counting!

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What to do with time in a small Alabama town (in a dry county)?  Actually, quite a lot.

Well, we missed the Rattlesnake Saloon (out of County) the last time through.

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This time we made the trip with good friends. Because of its unique location in very rural Alabama, you park your car, climb into the back of a pickup and get taxied down a steep dirt road along a small cliff. The saloon is built under a large rock overhang – good food and assorted beverages.

And we enjoyed the live music entertainment!

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While we didn’t visit on this trip, we did last time…the Coon Dog cemetery is a one of a kind.IMG_3057

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Wonderful canine friends have been interred here for many years. It is the only such memorial to these remarkable dogs.

Daisy was just one to many markers – the flag was behind her metal cutout head stone.

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With time to spare while waiting our tour, friend Hugh offered to take me for a round of golf…..given that I was in college the last time I was on a golf course, I agreed as long as I could ride in the cart and just take pics! No lie, he played a pretty good round finishing not far over par………

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Many of the folk that work at the Tiffin plant and service area also provide services after hours. Since we accumulated a significant amount of soil coming through the west Texas oil patch, it was time for a good coach cleaning. It needed a wash, wax and roof treatment, done for a very reasonable cost, and productively occupied a Sunday afternoon. She came out looking brand new!

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The other ‘must’ to do while here is the factory tour. This was my second time through and with so much to see it was especially valuable. First time is simply overwhelming. This time I knew what to look for to better understand how our home on wheels was put together. Here are some assorted pictures to give just a sense of the scale of this operation.

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….to building furniture…

….and stringing wire harnesses together … (each length of wire is printed every 6 inches with all the info telling what it does, where it goes, on what coach)….

…when the sides go up, and the roof goes on, it begins to resemble a motor home..058

They go offsite to a paint shop, and at the end of the line they start looking pretty sharp!

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True to Tiffin’s reputation for first class customer service, at the end of the tour you can take a self-guided tour back through any part of the process. And, many folks come here to watch their coach being built. It is remarkable, the free access that Tiffin provides to their facilities.

They’ve come a long way from the very first Tiffin RV…

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Lastly, I can’t forget to mention the campground ‘mascots’. They provide a very effective alarm clock, going off, persistently, about 4AM each morning…..

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We’ve thought of assorted names for them, but will pass on repeating them here in what I assume is polite company….

With our work nearly finished, it comes time to plan for departure and the trip to the next stop. In our case, that means a longish run to our winter quarters in Florida with maybe an interesting stop or two along the way……..more good times chasing this fun life style!

Stay tuned for more glimpses down the road……..

 

Flying High in Albuquerque

Flying High in Albuquerque

After a delightful stay in Pagosa Springs, we headed south to Albuquerque in time for the annual Balloon Fiesta. The Fiesta is a week-long celebration of hot air balloons that has been a major event for many years. Just about everything in town stops and focuses on balloons for the week. We planned our stay for 10 days to take advantage of lots of other things to see as well.  So, we pulled into Enchanted Trails RV park – friendly staff and a convenient location – on a Friday at the start of the Fiesta.

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On the fun side was the small retro RV park they had created – and you could rent these !

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There are day long activities, but we wanted most to see the mass ascension which meant a VERY early (3:30am) departure to the balloon grounds. Should mention it was also cold! But just as dawn was approaching the first of upwards of 500 hot air balloons began to launch…. welcome to this iconic New Mexico event. The following pix are just a sample….. loved all the remarkable special shapes.

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With our other free time we visited the local sights, including the Indian Pueblo Cultural Center. What an interesting place with native dances, displays of history and culture as well as vendors of native crafts.

On another day we visited the Biological Park. Didn’t manage to see it all, but wandered the gardens – complete with an amazing model train display and a dragon – and one of the finest aquarium displays I’ve seen.

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Turns out good friends John and Tammy, from Wyoming, who are now also full time travelers (also in a Tiffen motor coach), were in town as well. This provided an opportunity to sample some of the local fare. One night we dined at the Garduno’s at Old Town in the Albuquerque Hotel for a wonderful meal.  The most fun was at the Melting Pot – a fondue restaurant. The food and service were outstanding! This was our first experience at a fondue place, and it took some helpful instruction from our server to work our way through the 4-course meal topped off with chocolate fondue!

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As I write this, we are nearing the end of our stay. But made a last trip to the Fiesta to watch the “Evening Glow’ and other events……

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Mesa time out

Mesa time out

Much of the western landscape feels like home, though not raised here. We have both been enjoying our sojourn, especially through Wyoming, South Dakota and Colorado, as well as visits with friends along the way.

We arrived at Mesa Verde RV Park, in the SW corner of Colorado, the beginning of the month placing us just ¼ mi from the entrance to the National Park.

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We’re situated here for easy days’ excursions to some remarkable nearby places, and also close to Cortex, Durango, Silverton and Telluride. On the top of my list was a visit to the Mesa Verde cliff dwelling.

However, a first stop was to Hovenweep National Monument which provided great information about many surrounding sites – too many to see all.

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But we followed the map to a few of the more interesting sites…

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,..including the Hovenweep Castle and on to Lowry Pueblo. Pit homes were the earlier developments before construction of  cliff and other dwellings began. It is impressive to see the stone work that was required to construct these buildings.

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We also went to Painted Hand … a bit more of a hike…

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We passed on the guided tour to Balcony House, but still got a nice view. I preferred to avoid the large tour crowd – and the crawl through a small tunnel to leave the site!

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The adjacent Wetherill Mesa took us to Step house for a self-guided tour. The site was occupied from 600 to 1200 AD, the pit house being the earlier occupancy. A short walk, and the Park Service attendant at the site was very helpful.

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At least for the novelty of it, we drove to the 4-corners where the boundaries of Utah, Arizona, New Mexico and Colorado meet… fun to stand in four states at the same time.

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A swing to the east on the way back took us past Shiprock which rises up out of flat desert land to a remarkable height.

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…and found yet a similar example (Flat Top Rock) on the way back to Cortez.

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Needless to say, the scenery in this part of the Country is unique and spectacular. The geologic and weather forces are evident everywhere you look. A few weeks visit just begins to scratch the surface, and the history of the peoples that survived in these lands is even more fascinating.

Took a day to make the drive around the ‘million dollar highway’ – miles of more spectacular scenery – and a great season to be here!

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In just two days, we’ll head east to Pagosa Springs then south to Albuquerque for the annual hot air balloon fest.  This marks the beginning of the turn back east after leaving home in Maryland last April –  a long and eventful 6 months or so … so far so good!!

Movin’ on south

Movin’ on south

As difficult as it was to leave Custer and the Wagon Wheels West RV park, it was time to move – and we had good friends in the Denver area with promises to visit. One of the best parts of this new life style is the ability to connect with friends we haven’t seen in way too many years.

By way of a quick preview – we left Custer bound for Greeley, CO, then to Denver, then back to Greeley, followed by an overnight near Pueblo on the way to Creede, CO.

Greeley RV park was a ‘rest stop’, service stop and close to the eclipse path.  It may seem odd, but schedules (ours and friends) made for two separate Greeley stops with a week in between in Denver.  Perhaps as important as viewing the eclipse, we finally got a Dish TV system installed and working after multiple attempts at other stops.  This was not a trivial thing, as the NFL season was about to start – at least the pre-season games. So, we learned at bit about Winegard antenna switches and Wally boxes!

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What the antenna looks like with the dome cover removed…..

 

 

During the first Greeley visit, we made a trip to Estes Park and the Rocky Mountain National Park. As luck would have it, our friend from back east was on his way to Sturgis for the bike rally and stayed with us for a couple days – including the trip to Estes Park.

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Sad to report that we lost Chuck to an apparent heart attack just days later making for some very bitter sweet memories.

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For our stay in Denver, we were lucky to get a spot in Cherry Creek State Park. It was a beautiful location and we would have stayed longer if space was available. A wonderful dinner provided time to catch up with our friends Mike and Sharon.  Thanks so much!

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There was also time for day trips into town which included tours of the Denver Zoological park…. a beautifully designed and maintained facility with an incredible diversity of wildlife.

 

…and the Botanical Gardens were stunning with so much in full bloom.

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After a week in Denver, it was back to Greeley for Eclipse day. We were just south of the path of totality but got a full 98% show!

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We left Greeley headed for Cottonwood Cove RV park near Creede, CO, but made an overnight stop at Lake Pueblo SP to shorten an otherwise very long day drive. The park was another example of wonderfully maintained facilities by Colorado Parks and Wildlife department – easy pull through sites, and a beautiful location.

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Denise decided to practice some ‘mountain climbing’ and headed up the adjacent slope…. Look close and you will see her waving from the ‘summit’.

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Our stop in Pueblo made for a shorter day’s drive to Creede, and left enough time to make a side trip to the Great Sand Dunes National Park & Preserve. What an amazing natural feature!

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It was a bit of a hike from the visitor’s center down to the dunes and the Little Medano Creek that, in part, creates and maintains the dunes…..  Lacking both time and energy, we passed on hiking to the top, though many folks were doing so………and we were hesitant to push us ‘still flat-landers’ too hard at the 8,500 ft elevation..

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We arrived at Cottonwood RV park to be greeted by a small herd of Big Horn Sheep… seems they come down from the surrounding cliffs quite often, and we were to see them several times during our stay. A few days later, two rams joined the groups.

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A good chance we’ll go back to this park. It is a spectacular location, friendly staff and so much to do with the town of Creede only a few minutes away…

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…and Denise was introduced to Apple Caramel Martinis – a gift to all the women around a nightly campfire. I think it was a winner!002

 

 

 

 

Seems we arrived in time for the annual Heritage Music Fest – two days of great live music…..

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It should be noted that the splendor of the location was not with costs. Cliffs are not friendly to cell and internet connections, so this was our local phone booth ….

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… a short drive from the park and a nice place to watch the evening sunset.

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In addition to the sheep, we had horses in the adjacent pasture, and were serenaded at night by nearby coyote families..

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The Rv park was right on the banks of the Rio Grande river. We made the trip up canyon from Creede to the headwaters. Right by the park, we enjoyed the scenery, hiking paths …

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… and some good fishing! It’s been a few years since I’ve fished, but managed to land a 14 inch or better Rainbow ……..

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We met more new friends – who had been here a while and helped with the fishing. Look forward to crossing paths again – perhaps even at Cottonwood….

The town of Creede was a mining community and remnants of that activity can still be seen by driving (4-wheel advised) up the canyon road..

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It was here we found the headwaters of the Rio Grande though we didn’t follow the 4-wheel road all the way to the top..

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We are now safely settled at the Mesa Verde RV park after a drive down by way of Wolf Creek Pass (10,800ft) with several miles of 7% grades – up and down – it was interesting and provided a good test the motor home’s power and engine brakes.

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It also provided for some beautiful scenery

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The RV park is located between Durango and Cortex, and just a mile or so from the entrance to the Mesa Verde NP. We plan to spend the month visiting the Park and surrounding early settlements of cliff dwellings and related historical sites. It is a great place to take a break from the traveling for a bit…….

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More to come in just a few weeks……………

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.