Monday, September 19, 2016

Trip Planning Resources

I’ve been asked by folks how we plan our trips and find the campgrounds that we stay in. I use a multitude of online resources to accomplish the planning that goes into a trip. It takes a lot of time to evaluate locations and campgrounds. Everyone travels differently and what works for us may not work for you.

Basic considerations
We like space around us, and nice, natural scenery. We prefer to stay in Corp of Engineer, Forest Service, and State Park campgrounds. The Federal Govt. campgrounds are a good value as we get 50% off fees with our senior card. We usually only stay in private RV parks when nothing else is available, or when we are making a “pit stop” to do laundry and replenish supplies. We maintain an Elks Club membership as several of the lodges throughout the country have RV parking, good food, cheap beer, and good conversation.

Our truck and trailer outfit is equipped to allow us to “dry camp” or “boondock” for several days at out-of-the-way locations. I have a solar system and batteries and a generator. We have a large water tanks and sewage tanks so we can stay for up to 8 or 9 days without difficulty without utility hook ups. This gives us a lot of freedom in choosing the types of places we can visit.

Another consideration in the selection of spots is our dogs. We try to be mindful of the temperatures and when it is predicted to be above 85 or 90 we try to get electric hookup so we can run our air conditioner. We like spots where we can exercise them off-lead and let them swim occasionally. Unfortunately during the summer you have to plan ahead in tourist-heavy area and make reservations to guarantee a spot.

After we determine the general destinations for the summer I began to look at potential routes. Our general style is to only drive 150 miles (more or less) on the days we travel. We sometimes travel 200 and almost never over 250. Depending on the schedule we try to stay at least two days in a nice spot and when we reach a destination will spend a week or more in the area.

Planning Tools
My truck has a built in GPS that I use as a general navigation tool. For my primary GPS I use my smart phone and Google Maps. I also use Google Maps on my computer to evaluate campsites and plan our route.

I start building a trip using Google maps and a purchased program RV Trip Wizard. It is expensive ($39.00) a year but saves a lot of trip planning time as it sources a multitude of campground types.

When choosing a site for a reservation I’ll take a look at the campground on maps in a satellite view if possible (some campgrounds have so many trees you can’t see the ground) and will usually pick a site on an outer loop with large spaces between sites if one is available.

I also use:
Ultimate Campgrounds
US Campgrounds Info
RV Park Reviews
I also use Delorme paper map books as part of my search process. They can be purchased online or in many outdoor supply stores.

I also go to individual states State Park web pages and use: and Reserve America.
Unfortunately no one source is complete and sometimes we will find a hidden gem of a campground and occasionally one that’s not so perfect . We have been for the most part lucky and we are pretty adaptable with what is available.

Wheeling It is blog that I enjoy for travel planning . They are full timers but travel in a similar manner to us and I rely on their evaluations.

When checking out campsites look at what hook ups are available. Not all campgrounds have electricity, water, or dump facilities available so plan ahead so you can have water on board or have a follow up location to dump the holding tanks. Also make sure the site is an appropriate size for your type of recreational vehicle. Evaluate site length, space for slide-outs and ease of access whenever possible.

In spite of all the planning weather and wildfires often cause us to alter our plans. We keep a sharp eye on the tracking sites and the local news, and re-route around potential problems. We’ve learned that, as a friend says, plans must be “firmly cast in Jell-o”. All the links mentioned here, in addition to others we have found useful, are in the side-bar to the right on the blog. Please let us know if any of them don’t work for you, and Happy Trails!

Thursday, September 8, 2016

Heading for Home

The trees are turning toward fall colors, the days are cooling a bit, and the shadows are definately getting longer. We've been on the road since early June and are ready to get "back to the ranch", so to speak. Our next few days will be pretty much driving a direct line home, with few stops. We generally only do about 200 miles a day, even under these circumstances, but we won't be doing much sightseeing. The biggest challenge under these conditions is getting enough exercise for the dogs. Fortunately they like looking out the window too, and just getting in and out of the truck takes a good long jump, so they won't be too rusty by the time we get home.

Tuesday, September 6
We left Beatrice, Nebraska, a few minutes after 9 this morning, Kansas bound, bucking gusty head-winds all the way. The scenery is pretty much what we'd experienced the day before. . . farm fields of corn, soy beans, and occasionally sunflowers, and acre sand acres of perfectly mown grass. In one tidy little town after another, everyone has a HUGE front yard, and it's always freshly mowed. We've decided the farmers must be frustrated mid-season that they aren't riding their tractors, so they mow the grass . . . every other day by the look of it.

It only took about an hour to make the Kansas border, and then we made a brief stop in the little town of Winfield so I could visit Field of Fabric, a quilt shop (surprise!). I'm trying to get one of the little fabric license plates from each state we visit, and this shop fit nicely in our route.

Winfield is typical of so many of the towns we've gone through, with beautiful ornate brick buildings and other historic structures in their downtown area. I'd love to do a walking tour in some of these older downtowns.

I got the license plate and a few pieces of fabric for a quilt I've been planning for several years (and not a stitch sewn yet!),and we were off. Sort of a fly-by shopping experience.

Our stop for the evening is El Dorado State Park, just outside El Dorado Kansas. The Corp of Engineers developed the dam and reservoir, but the camping etc. is now managed by the Kansas State Park system. We selected a site in Big Oak loop, as this area of the park has the most trees, and with the heat climbing we wanted shade, and power for the air conditioning. Campsites in many sections of the park have no services.

We hate to make disparaging comments about parks, but this one needs help. Considering the price ($27, $5 to get into the park, and then $22 for the site for electric and water, no sewer) the place is woefully neglected and sad looking. Many of the gravel parking pads are very unlevel, and in many cases the gravel has sunk into the mud and is barely visible; the fire rings are rusted out, and the most frustrating thing for us, the registration system is very confusing!! They have a strange system of pricing things which isn't clear, and where/how/who to pay isn't clear as you get a different answer from everyone you ask.

At any rate, we did find an adequately long, level spot, in the shade. The host showed up around 6 PMso we registered with him. 'Turns out, he had been working in Eugene at the time we lived there! He's a radio engineer, and moved here recently - working for I Heart Radio.

One component to the pricing/quality situation here, I'm sure, is that there aren't a lot of other options in the area. We basically had the campground to ourselves for the evening so the crowds definately "thin" after Labor Day.

Tomorrow, it's on to Oklahoma!

Wednesday, Sept. 7
The morning sky was cloudy, though it was hard to tell with such deep shade from the trees. 'Still warm, but definately more comfortable than yesterday.  We departed early and made it into Oklahoma by 9:30, pausing again to visit a little shop in Stillwater.
At the the Sew and Sews shop I picked up their Row-by-row pattern, which has a military theme, and their license plate of course. The theme of the Row-by-row pattern designs this year is "Home Sweet Home" and it's been interesting to see the various interpretations.  The purchases all securely stashed in the rig, we proceeded south, down hwy. 77 and then 177 south to our home for the evening.

Much of this part of Oklahoma reminds me of hill country in Texas. Rolling limestone covered with trees and grass. It seems strange that it's all so green this late in the summer, but late rains have rejuvenated the plant life everywhere. You can see new growth in grassy patches that had been scorched by roadside fires earlier this summer.  There are even wildflowers along the road. It looks like early summer!

Our destination today, the little town of Purcell. Steve had found a little city park in Purcell with RV spaces mentioned in one of his many online database resources.

Upon arrival we found the spaces all occupied with folks that obviously had been fairly permanently settled it.

Steve checked at the golf course, where they manage the sites, and they said we could park on the grassy area just below the other sites. There was electricity available for the air conditioning, so that's all we needed. Bingo!

This really worked out better than one of the other sites would have, as the dogs had lots of grass and there weren't any close neighbors for them to bother. The really enjoyed a dip in the little lake, and then we all relaxed for the evening and enjoyed the grass and the view.

Thursday, Sept. 8
Another quilt shop is on the top of the list. I found this one listed in the Row-by-row participants and it seemed just too interesting to pass up. We planned our departure from Purcell so we reached the shop in Ardmore, Oklahoma, just as it was opening. The shop, Key Grocery and Quilts , is located in what used to be a grocery store, but now has very minimal food items, and is primarily quilting fabric and related items. They have a few garden seeds and some tools, and a few other items. It's a very interesting place, with lots of nooks and corners to investigate.

I picked up the license plate, of course, and some interesting fabric designed to be used like the currently popular adult coloring books.

The shop owner, Alicia Keys, was very generous with her information about how the technique works, and showed me a few examples. I can't wait to try it!

The little shop is housed in a building that used to also be a feed store, and the outside wall still carries the painted sign. A block away is the Ardmore train depot, which is in beautiful shape. The town has many beautiful old brick buildings, and clearly a lot of history. 

From Ardmore it was a straight shot to our destination for the evening, Waco  Lake, a Corp of Engineers Campground. We stayed here a couple of years ago with friends and loved it. The campground we stayed in then has been flooded out, due to the heavy rains last year, so we're on the other side of the lake.  

The dogs went for a swim as soon as we had made camp. It was in the 90's and after being in an air conditioned vehicle all day the heat really hit them once they were outside. I'm sure the water felt good.  Our site is mere steps away from the edge of the lake, so we had a perfect view. 
Everyone took a brief afternoon nap, and then after dinner we sat outside and watched a heron fish at the edge of the lake. He had company, there were several fireflies flitting about. I couldn't believe it, but Steve had seen some in Kansas too. The late summer rains have really benefited the little critters. 

In the morning we'll be heading home, so this is the last stop for this summer's adventures. We'll be posting any local travels over the fall and winter here too, so stay tuned!

Tuesday, September 6, 2016

Iowa and Nebraska

Stone Park, Sioux City, Iowa
This is an interesting, old time park, with an even more interesting history. The entrance immediately sets the tone.

Throughout the park there are beautiful red stone buildings, some are offices and some are available for large group gatherings.

The campground, in spite of all the space, is fairly small and cramped. It was clearly laid out in times when everyone camped with a tent or very small trailer, so getting today's rigs shoehorned in is "interesting". Several of us managed, and it turned out, we were all here because of the need to make reservations at the last minute over a holiday weekend. . . everything else was booked up.

In spite of the space constraints things worked out pretty well. There's lots of green space, and some extra parking available.

This park is a good example of how experiences can be very different depending on the time of year.
Another blogger reported that during their stay here in August the mosquitos were so bad they had to stay indoors the whole time they were here. Now, in September, we only saw 2 mosquitos! Bugs in general weren't bad at all. We had a different problem.

There are trails everywhere, which a month ago would have been perfect for exploring with the dogs. However, as it's fall now all the weeds/wildflowers are busy ripening their seeds, walking a trail is a hazardous proposition. We took one of the 'nature trails' our first day here, and the dogs brushed a few plants as we were walking. They got such horrible stickers in their coats that the fur was being pulled into little bunches. Watch thought he'd been attacked and jumped around, in the weeds, like a rodeo bronc, making the situation much worse.

I finally got both dogs back to camp and it took Steve and I, working together, about 30 minutes to get the burrs out of the dogs and their leashes. No more trail hiking while we're here! Half way through the de-burring process this tussock moth caterpillar landed in my lap, presumably from the tree I was sitting under. As some of these soft-looking critters are irritating to touch I just shooed him off with the dog comb I'd been using. That was enough 'Nature' for one day for me!

Two days later we decided to visit the Nature Center that is part of this park. It's at the edge of the park, out on hwy. 12. It is a wonderful experience, especially for children. Lots of hands-on fur, feather, fossils and live creatures, etc. We even watched a kestrel as he ate his little mousie breakfast. . . not everyone's cup of tea, I know!

Our neighbors in the campground turned out to be the friendliest folks. 'Dairy farmers from MN, she's a quilter and a sped teacher so we had lots in common. The second night some of their relatives were there too and they taught us a new card/board game. As we don't play games like that often I'm sure we were challenging students, but we all had a good time.

Rain the last couple of nights made a bit of mud, but we were ready to pack up and go anyway, so no biggie.

Monday, September 5
We departed shortly after 9 AM and bucking rather strong, gusty headwinds made it to our destination, Beatrice, Nebraska, by about 2:30 PM.

Chautauqua is the name of the campground. If you've never heard the term, here's the story behind it.  It's a really nice city-owned campground on the river.

The park is large, with multiple features. We found tennis courts, a duck pond, several playground areas, restrooms, and large group shelters. The camping area has 20 spacious sites, most with picnic tables, all with concrete pads, and the grass is beautiful! The dogs loved it! ($18 a night for full hook-ups didn't hurt the experience one bit!) Beatrice has an interesting history, and this whole area bears a repeat visit.

The campground has lots of green space, much of it devoted to a frisbee golf course. The wind made frisbee golf a bit difficult, so we had no conflicts walking the dogs along the shrubby river bank.

There's a little stream next to the campsites too, that feeds into the river. The geese seem to like that area. It's called a duck pond, but we never saw a duck! There are several benches along the water's edge, so there's always someone feeding the birds, whoever shows up.

Movin' on to Kansas. . .

album here

Thursday, September 1, 2016

Union County and environs - South Dakota

It's a leisurely drive from the Snake Creek Recreation area to Yankton, where we're booked for four days at Cottonwood, an Army Corp of Engineers campground on the Missouri River.

Monday Aug 29
Enroute to our campsite we toured the little town of Geddes, (pop. 208 in 2010) where my Great- grandmother Martin was living when she died in 1924. There isn't much left there as far as active businesses.
The old bank is still standing but empty and vandalized inside. I've no idea where her farm was, but it's interesting to see the area nonetheless.

We also looked into Avon, another little village where there were brief family connections - not much going on there either. This is the story of most little agricultural communities these days.

We meandered around the surrounding area to get a feel for the environment. All the little burgs are focused around a grain elevator, on the railroad. The sole reason for the settlement obviously being to help the farmer get his crop shipped out. Farming is still the main industry, with field after field of corn and soybeans being the primary crops in this area.

The campground we're staying in is nice. Huge spaces, right on Yankton Lake, just off the Missouri River, below Gavins Point Dam.. There are large areas where dogs can be off leash or play in the water, and plenty of 13 lined ground squirrels popping up all over the area to provide entertainment otherwise.

Tuesday Aug 30
We spent the morning checking out Utica, (pop. 65 in 2010) another little town where my dad's family lived for a few years. It's just north of Yankton and, again, there's not much left from those days.

There were more homes than we had anticipated, but little in the way of original buildings. This interesting little brick structure caught our attention though.

It looks as if it might have been a bank vault. It now sits in a vacant lot across from a lumber yard. If it was the bank vault, this would have been part of the main street business district. You'd never know that now!

Next stop, the big city of Yankton (pop. 14,591 in 2013) for a quick trip to a quilt store - they were out of license plates! Yikes! I guess that's a risk when shopping this late in the summer. I did pick up a couple of bits of fabric, so it wasn't a wasted trip.

This is the biggest city for several miles so business is booming and there are some very nice neighborhoods, especially along the river.

We've followed the Missouri River off and on for much of the trip, sort of doing the Lewis and Clark Discovery Expedition in reverse. Believe me, everyone takes advantage of the "Lewis and Clark were here" bit of history. The visitor center here at the recreation area is especially nice, with large, unique windows especially designed to frame two views of the river.

Wednesday, Aug 31
Today we visit one of the main reasons for our visit to this part of South Dakota - Elk Point. This is where my paternal grandmother and my father and his sister were born.  We drove around the little town (pop. 1,963 in 2013) to see if we could find a match to four photos I have of relevant buildings.

Columns and other decorative items from the old courthouse 
I'd already pretty well determined the old courthouse was gone. It was the setting about 1910 for the photo of my grandfather and all the other letter carriers gathered on the front steps.

That courthouse has been demolished and a portion of the entry has been incorporated in the entry to the new courthouse.

The train station, where my uncle was a conductor, is gone, replaced by grain storage silos and other agricultural equipment.

My great grandfather's meat market, which was a wooden building, is also gone. I can picture it though, tucked somewhere in between the existing brick buildings on Main Street.

We drove through residential areas hoping to find his house, where my grandmother and both her children were born, but couldn't locate it. At the suggestion of a deputy Sheriff we stopped on the street we stopped in to an antique store to talk to the owner. 'Turns out he's head of the local historical society. He couldn't help us with a location for the old Strobel house, but was very friendly and interested in the family history. He connected us with an 80+ year old history buff, Fern, who offered to meet us at the Union County Museum, where she is the curator, when it opened in just over an hour.

We hurried down the street a block or so and had a great Mexican lunch at Los Amigos (who would guess, in a little town in South Dakota?) and then headed to the west end of Main Street where the Union County Historical Society Museum is housed in the beautifully restored Charles Murtha House.

With Fern's help we searched an antique map and found Great-grandfather Abraham Strobel's homestead, in Civil Bend, which is just a smidgen east of Elk Point. She was so enthusiastic about seeing the few photos I had on my iPad I promised to send her the files of those and several others.

A quick visit to the cemetery was all it took to locate great-grandfather and great-grandmother's marker, and then we headed back to our campsite in Yankton to rescue the dogs from the trailer. I think we woke them up, but they were happy to see us.

All in all it was a successful visit. 'Good to see the little town still surviving, and many of the older homes and business buildings still standing. I'm glad to find a place to share many of the photos and documents I have too, as they consider my great-grandfather to be one of the really historic residents, and he was!

This area wasn't a state yet when he settled here in the 1870's. I can't imagine the hard, primitive lives the farmers lived then. Folks here are still farming, as the silos everywhere attest to, and all the fields are full of good-looking crops . . . the great American Heartland at its best!    

A few more pics here

Exploring South Dakota - The Badlands

Those old everyday chores have to be done some time, so we headed back to Rapid City to take care of them. We'd enjoyed the Elk's club there as a one night stop, so moved in again, and had another friendly pub-style dinner while chatting with other members and travelers.

The next day, errands and chores completed, we took drove south into Badlands National Park. There's a nice loop tour, which suited the situation pretty well. As it was very cloudy, and slightly rainy, we weren't in the mood to do a lot of sightseeing on foot. So we spent some time checking out the visitors center.

This is the BEST visitor center we've seen on this trip. Not only are the displays really well done (kids will love the way they depict the dinosaur era animals that lived here) but they also have a fossil lab open to visitors where you can watch technicians clean specimens, and pack them for shipping. There are several specimens on display, and we discovered while talking with the ranger who was stationed in the room at the time that she was a graduate of the University of Oregon. We had a nice chat with her before moving on to drive through the remainder of the Badlands .

The formations in the park are amazing. Dramatic spires topped with dollops of whipped cream, mesas with unbelievable erosion, and stripes of colorful soils. Even with little sun the shadows created by the many layers are fascinating. It's rugged country and one can only imagine the challenge of navigating it on horseback or in a wagon.

As the afternoon wore on the clouds thinned a bit and by the time we reached the park boundary we actually had a little sun. Good timing.  It's an impressive area in spite of the clouds, and bears further exploration.

The Badlands under stormy skies

Beautiful downtown Wall
We planned to spend the evening at Sleepy Hollow Campground in Wall, which is only about 8 miles from the park boundary. As it turned out the location was perfect. We did a quick tour through the Wall Drug area of the town, and a couple of other shops, sampled a local brew while chatting with a couple who are full-timers and had just recently been in Eugene, OR. We returned to camp just in time to fix a quick dinner and walk the dogs before a fairly blustery thunderstorm hit. (No, we didn't get a free glass of water, but yes, we did get donuts!)

Hoping he'll tell me where his mine is!

It's that time of year. Days are noticeably shorter, evenings cooler, and overall it's beginning to feel like winter. Time to head south!

Aug. 28 Saturday - Sunday
Guess I spoke too soon! The sun is out, so we decided to make a swing through The Badlands again, so we could catch it in a different light. The sun does make the colors a little brighter, and the shadows sharper. It was good to take a second look.

For two days we're camped at Francis Case Lake, Snake Creek Recreation Area, on the Missouri River, and the weather has turned to summer again!

We had a great view of the lake
It's a beautiful area, and the lake is huge, as is our campsite. We've got plenty of room for the dogs to play, privacy as we're in an end site, and there are areas on the beach where they can play in the water. What a find!

We drove both camping loops to look over the layout and sites, and they are all large, though some have better views than others. The little cabins are mostly right along the shoreline so have excellent views of the lake.

It took some doing, as things are pretty overgrown this time of year, but we found a couple of trails around the edges of the campground. Signage is a little on the short side, but you can find a map of the area on line. There are four different maps at the bottom of the page I linked to above.

Now for the remainder of touring in South Dakota, on to the little towns where some of my family settled and lived for many years.
We had beautiful sunsets most nights at the lake

The album is here.