View from our front door in Kalispell, MT

We’re staying for a few days in Kalispell, MT before we head to Canada.  It’s real near Glacier National Park but we’re not visiting that beautiful park this trip.

We’re in the best site in the RV Park where we’re staying…at least I think so!  We’re at the back end of the park in a corner site with a great view of the mountain range in the background and forest.

Here’s a picture:

Driving through Montana while so many fires were burning

We drove through Montana on 8/25/17 to get from Buffalo, WY to Kalispell, MT.  We did the drive in 3 days making two stops.

There are several fires burning in Montana; we passed several small burned areas near the freeway and could see a lot of smoke in the air near Butte MT.  While spending one night near Butte I didn’t go outside as the smoke was so thick.

Here’s a picture of how smoky the air was around Butte:

Year 6 Travel

Total Solar Eclipse August 21, 2017 – we were in the path of totality!

August 21, 2017 was the day of a total solar eclipse that passed through a band of the U.S. In the middle of that band was Casper, WY. We chose to view the eclipse from Casper as it was in an area with a good change of clear skies and indeed it was a clear blue sky the morning of the eclipse. There was a little haze in the northern sky due to the fires in Montana and Idaho.

Even though we made reservations in March we couldn’t find a place closer to Casper than Buffalo, 1.5 hours to the north. So, we got up early and hit the road to drive into Casper on the 21st.

I had signed up months ago for a newsletter from the “Casper Eclipse” group, as Casper was planning a 4-day festival to celebrate the eclipse and to service the thousands and thousands of visitors that were expected. So I had seen news of the downtown festival, events planned all around the city, as well as news about the crowds, shortages of bathrooms etc.

We decided to go to the Tate Geologic Museum at the southern end of town to see the eclipse. We’d been to the museum before and knew it was part of the Casper College campus. When we arrived at the campus about 8:30a.m. on the 21st we found that the college had opened several parking lots for free for eclipse viewing, had several buildings open for restroom availability, had several venues available for food and had lots of students, staff and security personnel available for first aid, selling beverages, directing traffic etc. It was PERFECT!

We had arrived early enough to get a good parking spot, right next to some grass and several trees, so we had shade to wait for the eclipse. We watched the parking lot fill up and saw lots of people set up canopies, chairs, tripods etc. Lots of kids were running around and playing. Lots of people were enjoying the cool weather (mid-70s).

Then it was time for the big event!! At 10:22 the partial eclipse began, and using cameras and eclipse viewing glasses we could see an edge missing on the sun. Over the next 100 minutes the missing spot grew and grew, until 11:42 when the totality began.

Until 11:40 it was still pretty bright out. But, at 11:41 it got dark real quick and cooled off. People started cheering, and fireworks were set off at various places around campus and around the city.

That, unfortuntely, freaked Laddy out! He started shivering and jumping around and I worked to keep him calm and not knock over Jeff’s tripod. I was able to get my glasses on and see it briefly when it just showed the corona, and then when the “diamond ring” showed. Poor Laddy!

Then, at 11:45 the totality was over and it started to get lighter and lighter. Laddy was still shivering and scared though. It really cooled off too, I had my jacket and Jeff commented on how cool it got.

As soon as the totality was over people started leaving. We stayed for a while, but then decided to head back.

Here are some pictures of the eclipse that we took:

Jewel Cave in the Black Hills of South Dakota

While in South Dakota this year we visited a cave we missed last time. Jewel Cave is in the Black Hills, not far from Mt. Rushmore. We tried to see it last time we were here, but the tours were sold out for several hours and we didn’t have the time to wait.

This time we booked our tour a couple of days in advance so we wouldn’t have that problem. Good thing too; when we arrived the tours were full for several hours again. But, we got the one we wanted!

Jewel Cave, like so many other caves in the area, was discovered by accident in the late 1800s. At the time it was thought to be a small cave system, but in the past 30 years or so caving expeditions have discovered that it’s really one of the longest in the world. Over 190 miles of passages and rooms have been discovered and they aren’t done yet! The current caving expeditions have to crawl and wind their way through small passages for 15 hours to get to their base camp, then they spend a few days exploring, then they spend 15 hours crawling back out!

There is a ‘wild’ tour offered at this cave, but you have to be able to fit through a 24″ x 8.5″ opening so lots of people are not allowed on this tour. There’s a concrete ‘mockup’ of that size opening outside the visitor center, and while we were there we saw people trying to get through. Imagine how small that is!

We enjoyed our tour! It’s a bit colder in this cave than in others we’ve seen, at 49 degrees. Brrr! The steps and pathways are very nice, even stairs, flat paths, which is not like some other caves we’ve been in! We went up and down quite a bit, they say it’s over 700 stairs total (some up, some down). You start and end the tour in an elevator as the visitor center entrance is about 780 feet down. It’s not near the original and only natural entrance.

It’s named Jewel Cave because the men who discovered it were gold mining in the area, and on their first few trips into the cave they found formations that they thought were crystals which often grow near gold. Alas, what they thought were crystals were just calcite, formed from slowly dripping water leaving that mineral in the rock to collect.

Here are some pictures:

Toadstool Geologic Area – weird formations!


While in South Dakota, we travelled for a couple of hours back down into Nebraska to see the Toadstool Geologic Area.

This is a small area accessible by about 20 miles of dirt road, but at least the dirt road was fairly smooth and not potholed or washboard.

Once at the area, we found a small primitive campground and pit toilets. No visitor center, but they did have a few maps of the area and information boards.

The attraction is to take a mile-long loop trail up into the nearby hills to see the very strange and interesting formations that look like toadstools. We took the hike and were fascinated by the geology of the area!

We were able to take Laddy with us, and he enjoyed the hike as well, although for different reason! We saw a few rabbits and he smelled lots of them!

Here are some pictures:

The Badlands of South Dakota

While in the western South Dakota area, we drove through an area called the Badlands. Much of South Dakota is rolling hills and flat plains, and the area around the Badlands is that type. But, all of a sudden while driving along you start to see very spiky sharp hills, the kind that are called sawtooth ridges.

Right at the visitors center you can see beautiful spiky hills and can also observe the different colored layers that make up the geology of this area. Several million years ago this was the seabed of a large inland sea. The fossils found in this area are marine animals. Interspersed with the seabed layers are thick layers of ash from volcanos to the west, and also sandstone layers.

These layers were compressed into fairly hard layers and the wind and water from rivers and streams has been eroding the ground through the layers. Wind does a lot of the erosion and that causes the spiky sharp hill features.

The scenic road cuts through some of these hills, and then climbs to the ridgeline where you can look down into the ravines and hills. There’s one section of the area that has a very yellow large layer that’s not found in the rest of the area. I must admit I don’t know what caused the yellow color.

While driving along the ridge we came upon some longhorn sheep. They were right on the edge of the road, and weren’t bothered at all by people driving by. We got some good pictures of a male with huge horns and some smaller males, females and babies. Several were wearing radio collars so the herd could be tracked.

Here are some pictures:

What?! One of the leveling jacks is stuck!

We’ve been travelling with a trailer and now a fifth wheel RV for a little over 5 years now, and we’ve seen lots of little things go wrong with our RV, and a few major things.  We’ve learned that things will go wrong and the best way to deal with it is just to stay calm, analyze the situation and check the internet for ideas and solutions.

The worst situation we’ve had was when a tire delaminated and ripped through the floor causing massive damage to the bathroom and wall and a little bit in the living room.  We were a month on the road for that problem (click here to read my post and see pictures).  We also had two wheels come off and roll down the freeway (wheel, not just tire) and had to replace the axle both times (click here and here for those stories).

The little things include screws that come loose, a window where the little plastic latch broke, light fixtures that stop working, etc.  A nuisance, but not a major problem and we’ll get it all fixed when we are someplace for more than a week or two.

Jeff and I have a system for what we each do to hook up the rig, and what we each do to get unhitched and set up at each destination.  One of my tasks is to use the leveler bars to raise the RV off of the truck’s hitch and then lower all four bars so the rig is level and stable.  We have a nice automatic system with a remote, so I can stand next to the rig and push a button and it will adjust all four leveling bars so we’re level and stable.

But, when we arrived in Scottsbluff and I pressed the button to autolevel it just beeped at me.  I then checked the control panel on the side of the trailer and saw an error that one of the bars, the right rear (RR) bar wasn’t moving.

We tried a few things and finally had to adjust it manually, using a drill to get it down and in the approximately position to level the rig.  The others could be lowered down one by one using the control panel until we were somewhat level.

Once we got the slides out and could access the storage where we keep the manuals on all the trailer systems we read up on the leveling system.  We also did some searches on the internet.  This gave us some ideas of things to try.

The next morning we didn’t have any pressing sight-seeing to do, so we pulled in the slides and tried the instructions we found in the manual and online that seemed to match the situation we had.

The error message that one of the jacks was ‘stuck’ it didn’t explain.  Since we weren’t on a really level site we assumed that that right rear jack extended all the way out and in that position got stuck as that’s how we found it when we had to adjust it manually with the drill.

But, the manual and the internet searches indicated that to correct the error where the leveling system wasn’t working was to retract all four bars, then lower each one 6 inches, then do a retract of all four at the same time using the control panel.  Voila!  It worked!

The next time we hitched up everything worked as it should.

No pictures as there really isn’t much to look at for this problem, LOL

Scottsbluff and Chimney Rock in western NE

Western Nebraska has some interesting geological formations in an area called Scottsbluff. This area was on several of the pioneer trails leading to Oregon, California and the Salt Lake. The geological formations were used as a waypoint on the trail and let the pioneers know that they were 1/3 of the way to their destination. It also told them that the trail, flat and somewhat easy up to this point, would get much harder from here on heading west.

It was named after an early mountain man who became ill and his companions left him behind to recuperate. Instead he died and they found his bones on their return trip.

In the late 1840s thousands of pioneers headed through this area, some drawings and paintings from that era showed covered wagons 8-10 abreast and as far as the eye can see going past the bluffs.

Chimney Rock is a few miles east of the Scottsbluff area itself, and there are some other formations along a ridgeline. There is photographic evidence that Chimney Rock is a few feet shorter than it was back in the pioneer days, so you have to wonder how much longer it will look like it does now before it flattens out like some of the other formations.

The chimney is not volcanic lava as some other chimney rocks are. It’s comprised of volcanic ash and sandstone layers that were compressed over a long period of time, and then started eroding slowly by the wind.

After seeing so much of Nebraska be so flat, it was interesting to see these bluffs rising in the distance.

Here are some pictures we took: