Monday, July 23, 2012

Dippin' Dots and Blue Beacons

Monday, July 23

Today we got up a little later than we should have to get on the road by 10AM, like we had planned. Oh well, we have to be out by 11. So we started with the chores of putting away stuff, strapping down furniture, and general cleaning, which we do each time we move. I also took our Eileen picture.

Eileen at San Antonio KOA

Tony started on the "outside stuff" which is raising the jacks, dumping tanks, checking air in the tires and hitching up. Well, at one point, I needed to ask him a question. I went looking for him, and he was not around! My immediate thought was, "OK, who is he visiting with, now?" When we are RVing, Tony doesn't know a stranger, it seems!

In a minute, he came walking up from the direction of the office. Immediately he said, "You know we can't go on a trip without adventure!" I said, "OH NO, now what?" Tony had discovered that the inner dual tire on the truck was low and had a nail in it, so he now had to go and find a tire shop to get it taken care of. He had gone to the office to ask for advice. While he went to get the tire looked after, I finished up the inside and getting ready.

We finally pulled out about 11:30, on our way back home. 

Getting ready to roll

Heading out the entrance

We decided to stop at Buc-ee's again, to give it the real look-see and get something to eat. Mainly because we were starving -- we knew we could "fit" in their parking lot, and it wouldn't take long to get a meal. I also finally ate some Dippin' Dots!! For about 2 months, there has been a billboard near Terrell advertising: Dippin' Dots - Buc-ee's - New Braunfels of course, now you know, advertising works!!

Dippin' Dots cookie dough ice cream


The trip was fairly easy again, as we took the 130 Toll Road around Austin. As we drew near the DFW area, we decided to try out the Blue Beacon Truck Wash. They wash Big Rig trucks and trailers. We had heard good things about them on the Heartland Forum, so we decided to see if it was a good idea if we need the Mammoth washed in the future. She was still a little buggy and dirty from her trip to Wyoming, plus the bugs from this trip. WOW, we were amazed! It took them about 15 minutes to clean her and the truck, and apply Rain-X finish rinse. MUCH BETTER! The truck even looks RED-ER!

We got home and really looked her over, and the wash isn't perfect as a hand-wash would be, but much quicker and much better than before. We will definitely consider this in the future!

Mammoth and the truck, all shined up

We arrived home about 7PM and got unloaded. Another good RV trip. Can't wait to go again!

P.S.  Here's the billboard:

Locks and Fajitas

Sunday, July 22

Today Tony again headed off to TBA Convention, while I stayed in to work. I decided to get dressed shortly after Tony left, and then decided to put the awning out to help keep the rig cool. When I went to open the door, I could not!! The lever that locks the deadbolt from the inside would not move! I could not figure out how this could be? Yes, Tony locks the door when he leaves, but I've never been locked in! I fought with the door for about 10 minutes, then decided I could just remove the door lock assembly from the inside. I took it apart, and found I was still trapped. the deadbolt was engaged into the frame, and there was no way for me to remove it. I started to get a little worried, was I going to have to go out the emergency window? LOL! What a sight that would be! I happened to look out the window and see the neighbor in the rig next to us, looking into her basement compartments. I quickly opened the window and asked for assistance. She said this has happened to them before, so she was glad to help. I gave her the key through the window, and she unlocked the door. Problem solved! It just so happens we have a new keyless entry door lock on order, but it didn't arrive before we left for this trip. We'll have it installed before our next one, I am sure of it! I going to make a point to bring this up on the forum, so that others can be aware.

In the early afternoon, something told me to go to the KOA store for ice cream. Sure enough, there was a pint of red velvet cake ice cream, my favorite! It was a yummy treat. This is the second KOA that has had it. (I think it calls my name!)

When Tony was done with the Convention sessions, I picked him up and we went out to eat at La Margarita, in the Market section of downtown San Antonio. They have very good fajitas there. We had a good meal, and then headed back to the Mammoth for a relaxing last evening here. After I did a little work, we settled in to watch West Side Story. This happens to be one of our favorite musicals, and is the theme of the THS band's halftime performance this year.

We probably should have done more to get ready to leave tomorrow, but didn't. Oh well! We'll be fine....

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Beating the Heat and DCI show

Saturday, July 21

Today Tony headed of to TBA convention, while I stayed at the trailer and worked and other things to keep me occupied. I had hoped to go and explore the Tweety's RV supply in Boerne, TX, but they apparently are not open on Saturday. (I tried to call, got a recording stating as such.) I mostly stayed inside, in the cool. There was no wind to speak of, so I tried extending the awning to help keep the rig in the shade a bit more, and found it keeps it a little cooler. YAY!

About 4pm, I drove over to the convention center to pick Tony up (got myself turned around -- should have used the GPS!), so that we could go to the Drum Corps International (DCI) show. For those who don't know, this is like marching band on steroids!! They call it "Marching Music's Major League".  Performers must be 21 years old and younger. Corps from all over compete in shows all over the US, showcasing their marching, brass playing, percussion, and colorguard talents. (They do not use woodwind instruments.) Their performances are quite elaborate, and extremely well executed. These groups start auditions and practices in the fall, but the performance doesn't begin until summer... and then it's 24-7 DCI, as these groups travel, practice and perform every day, all summer long. (Tony and his brother were in the Colts Drum and Bugle Corps, when they were college-age.)

We had a real hard time finding parking because the Alamodome has limited spaces and with this event being the Southwest Championship Show with more than 30 corps in attendance, the Corps take up a large area for their busses and staging. We ended up having to park at Sunset Station, and walking about 2 blocks, but it wasn't too bad. We were lucky that the temps have not been too terrible here, 97 was the high. It's just the humidity! 50%! The best part about this show, is that it is in the air-conditioned INDOORS!!

We arrived just in time to see The Colts perform. Wow, they have come a long way. We enjoyed their performance, and the crowd really enjoyed it too. We watched 16 Corps perform. WOW, that's a lot of great music and marching!  We really enjoyed the Blue Knights show, as well as the Madison Scouts show. But the show that blew me away was Carolina Crown! Unfortunately the Blue Devils scored better, but I really thought CC had a better show. All year these Corps perform, garnishing ratings, ultimately leading them to the World Championship, this year being hosted in Indianapolis, IN. If you happen to be able to catch this, sometimes they rebroadcast the finals on PBS or ESPN II. If there is a show near you (check out GO SEE IT! You will be truly amazed what our young people can do.

Carolina Crown about to perform

Outside the Alamodome after the DCI show, with the
Tower of the Americas in the background

After we got back to the Mammoth, we crashed for the night. Overall, a  good day.

Saturday, July 21, 2012

Enjoying the comforts of HOME.

Friday, July 20th

Today we got up and had breakfast, and I did some Hairball Creative work. Tony researched the bus route to make sure he knew how to get to the Convention Center, and headed out after lunch, while I stayed home.

Before he left, he put ingredients for a pot roast into the crock-pot. All afternoon I got to smell that roast cooking!! During the day I did some more Hairball Creative work, and I also looked into trying to locate some Heartland BigHorn floorplans that we are interested in seeing in person. Unfortunately, of the four dealers I called that had a website with one listed, none actually had one on their lot. Oh well, we'll just wait to see what happens in our neck of the woods. We're not buyin' anything anytime soon.

my office in the Mammoth

About 7PM Tony got back from the Convention and riding the bus, and I had food ready and waiting when he walked in the door. We had a great meal, and enjoyed being in our own "home"... quite a departure from the past 18+ years, where when we've come to SA for Convention, we've stayed in a hotel, and had to eat out.

After dinner we went for a walk around the park, and saw many Heartland products. Did not get to meet any of the owners, but that's expected, it was almost too hot to be outside. This park is well established with many full-time residents. The park is well maintained, lots of trees and decent-sized sites. Folks that were out, were friendly. The pool was also very popular, full of families/kids. 

our Mammoth

After the walk, we headed back to the cool inside. Once the sun was lower, the two ACs had no problems keeping the rig cool. We each discussed our day, and just relaxed. Tony said he planned to take the bus again tomorrow, but would have to get up about 6:15 to make sure he was ready and out at the stop in time. We hit the hay early.

Mammoth visits the home of the Alamo

Thursday, July 19th

Yesterday we brought the Mammoth home from storage, so we could load her up. We decided to plug in to our 30amp outlet, so we could get the inside cooled down and make it easier to load. Well, with the extensions and converter to 50 amp, the surge/low voltage protector kept tripping. Hmmm. We've plugged her up like this before, what could be the issue? We struggled in the near 100 degree heat trying to find out. Eventually, I suggested plugging in the 50amp surge/low voltage protector instead (We it plugged in at the conversion from 50 to 30, rather than the 30 amp at the house), to see if that worked. Well, it did! Thank goodness, it wasn't a problem with the rig. We will have to explore why the 30amp didn't like it, another day.... The only reason we use this conversion and 30 amp extensions is when we need power to the rig when it is on the street, which is rare.

Back to the trip!!! The Texas Bandmaster's Association Convention is held every year in San Antonio, and since the cost of a hotel stay nearby keeps going up, we opted to take the Mammoth and stay at the KOA, instead. We decided on the KOA because it's not too far from the convention center, and it's on the city bus route, so Tony can take the bus there and not have to deal with trying to find parking for the dually truck. So this morning, I worked on getting the Mammoth loaded.

ready to go!

We had to wait until mid afternoon to head out. We left about 1:15pm, and made good time. I-35 is a mess with lots of construction, but once you get to sections that are widened, it is very nice. 

As we approached Austin, we decided to take the 130 Toll Road that goes east around the outskirts of the city. Tony has been on it on a few trips before, but we had not pulled the Mammoth on it. We decided it was worth the cost to avoid sitting in Austin rush-hour traffic for an hour or more. The 130 loop is long and out in the country it seems, but it was a very relaxing drive and we were very glad we took it!

Once we got to New Braunfels, we were starting to get hungry. We decided to stop at the new Buc-ee's. Buc-ee's is a gigantic convenience store, aimed at travelers. Their "mascot" is a cute grinning beaver. They advertise 80+ toilets. It looks to be the size of a large grocery store, with souvenirs, drinks, food, auto accessories, clothing, music, snacks of all kinds, dippin' dots™, and even fresh produce and hunting-related items. We stopped mainly to find out what the excitement was about, and find something to eat. They don't have anywhere to sit and eat, so we just paid and took our pulled-pork sandwiches back to the truck and ate. We were anxious to get to San Antonio before dark, so we didn't explore the store that much. 

Mammoth at Buc-ees

lots of cars filling up

Tony headed for an entrance

Once we arrived at the KOA, we got set up and settled in to get cooled off. The temp was much cooler here than back home, only 91 degrees, but the 50% humidity!!! We were drenched in sweat by the time the rig was leveled and hooked up to utilities.

our site at the San Antonio KOA

We were very tired from the drive, so we didn't do a lot to get set up inside... but that's OK. We don't have to jump up and do anything right away tomorrow.

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Mammoth explores - South Dakota, Wyoming, and More!

Sunday, June 10, 2012 Bad Lands and Free Water

This morning we got up intending to head deeper into South Dakota, to Badlands National Park. We decided to head to the far East entrance so we could drive through the park, and come out near the Wall Drug Store, a famous attraction here in South Dakota.

Shortly after breakfast, there was a knock at the door. Karen and Dan, the Heartland owners we met the day before, stopped by to say HI! We visited for a bit, and they told us they were leaving to head on to Gillette. Apparently they were having too much fun without them! As we drove east, we saw many Heartland products headed west. We figured they were headed to the Rally!

We drove towards the park entrance, we kept saying, gee, this doesn’t look “BAD”, but after entering the park, the landscape changed dramatically! The first turnout off the road was an amazing vista of rugged, weathered crevices and canyons.

 Badlands National Park entrance

 Tony taking pictures

We continued on the road, stopping at the turnouts to take pictures and marvel at the formations. We stopped at the information center, and watched the short educational film about the Badlands, and purchase our souvenirs (including a pressed penny, which I collect.) We had brought our lunch, so we ate it in the truck, enjoying the great scenery.

Here are more pictures, but of course they don’t do it justice.

At a certain point in the park, you can exit or continue on a dirt road through even more of the badlands. We chose to exit, so we could visit Wall Drug, a famous establishment put on the map because they offered free ice water to weary travelers through the region. The building now takes up a city block or more, and has all sorts of souvenirs, tourist trap attractions, food, etc. It’s definitely a sight to see. After our free ice water, we purchased a few items and headed back to Hill City.

Wall Drug

When we got into town, we decided to stop and eat at the Alpine Inn. We had heard on the Heartland Forum they had great steaks. Well, we were tired and hungry, so it took a while for us to park and walk onto the porch and try the handle before we realized they were closed on Sundays!! I was so disappointed!

We were so hungry, we opted to walk down the street and go in the first place we came to, the Hill City Café. The buffet left much to be desired, but we were fed, and quickly with no fuss.

After dinner, we drove over a block to check out the train station of the 1880 Train. I had read about it online, but we were a little unsure whether we’d want to make time to ride, sight-unseen. Well, they had a little engine problems, so the depot was still open, and the nice gal working there was very friendly and helpful and answered all our questions. We decided to go ahead and make our reservations for the next morning. We got back to the rig and relaxed for the evening, and I worked for a bit.

Monday, June 11, 2012   Trains and Presidents

We got up and got ready so we could head to town for our ride on the 1880 Train at 10am. We opted for the out and back to Keystone, with no extended time there, as we had other plans for the day as well.

Find out more about the train here:
The train was a little late, but no one seemed to mind once we were boarded! It was cool enough for jackets, and with the windows of the coach open, they were welcome! Right off the bat, the train had to climb a steep grade. Supposedly this is the steepest non-cog railway grade in the US. The views were great throughout the trip… many of the time through wooded lands, but also along areas of homes and ranches. We got to Keystone, and there was quite a crowd waiting to board as well! We had 15 minutes to go to the restroom and sightsee, before boarding of the additional passengers took place. We enjoyed the trip back, as well.

engine 110, the only one of its kind operating today

Great view from the back of the train

unique rock formations, just a few feet from the tracks

The station in Hill City

The water tower at the Hill City station

The view from inside the rail car

scenes along the way, remnants of a mining claim

After the train ride, we decided to eat lunch. This time, we were more judicious in our choice. We picked Desperados Cowboy Restaurant -- western style décor in a well preserved historic building, built in 1885. We had the Buffalo burgers, and they were terrific! Tony struck up a conversation with the owner. He seemed very nice. We highly recommend this place if you are in the area.


 After lunch, we headed to see Mount Rushmore National Memorial. The drive was beautiful, with many unusual rock formations and curvy mountain roads. Once we arrived at the Memorial, we paid our parking fee and entered the nice new parking garages. They have recently added/renovated the Mall in front of the memorial (1998) and it is very nice. There is a large theater-style seating area, and a great walking path that takes you up closer to the carvings. Tony took the entire loop, while I stayed back and only did part of the path, due to the many stairs at the end of it. ;)

The park entrance

Unique rock formations

Mount Rushmore

Us and the presidents

A closer look

We got many great pictures. It truly is amazing to see these heads carved in sheer granite, at the size and scale that they are! After visiting the Memorial, we went back to the RV where I worked. Tony then took a drive over to the Crazy Horse Memorial, under construction and visible from the road, to take some more pictures. Since we just didn’t have time, we’ll save that visit for another time. After Tony returned, he cooked hot dogs on the grill. They were great!! After dinner we started getting our stuff ready to pack up and head to Gillette tomorrow.


Eileen at Rafter J Bar Ranch, Hill City SD

Tuesday June 12, 2012  Through Deadwood to Gillette

Today we got up and got the rig ready to go. We knew we didn’t have too far to go, so we didn’t rush. We pulled out about 10AM, headed for Gillette. The roads were pretty and scenic, and we enjoyed the drive. We passed a pretty lake up in the mountains, Pactola Reservoir. This made me think of Dale, my former coworker, that insists on finding remote property near water and mountains someday.

Driving SD Hwy 385

 Passing by Pactola Reservoir

About lunchtime, we were approaching the town of Deadwood. We saw a small RV park, and as we zipped by, I counted 6 or 7 Heartlands! I think this turned out to be the group caravanning from Oklahoma.

Into Deadwood, we decided to stop –- quite suddenly -- as I saw a Pizza Hut right across the street from a large parking lot!  We pulled in and had a good lunch, and were soon back on the road again. 

Welcome to Deadwood

Downtown Deadwood

Surprisingly, we didn’t see any other good RV friendly parking through this historic town, nestled into the canyon… in fact; most of the parking in the main downtown area was metered parking. The road rose sharply out of town, and in no time we were back out onto the plains. We crossed over back into Wyoming. We could see storm clouds off in the distance, but they never rained on us. We got to Gillette about 3:00 PM.

Back into Wyoming

First things first, we fueled up so our rig would be the heaviest it would be for our weigh-in, and then headed to the Cam-Plex for check-in and then rig weighing. Once Mammoth and the Truck (hitched) were weighed, we were lead to our site at the fairgrounds. The fairgrounds at the Cam-Plex consist of a large field, but with hundreds of “sites” all with full hookups. The arrangement was such we could pull straight through to our specific site, and the rigs were staggered -- every other one, so we all had plenty of room.

Tony and I began to unhook, when we discovered an issue. We couldn’t get the tailgate down on the truck! Also about that time, the Heartland Repair Team appeared to look at our two issues we’d requested. They immediately went into HELP MODE, and were able to help us get our tailgate latch unstuck, and diagnosed the problem. (A small plastic retainer had broken on one side of the handle.) They also looked at our front cap flex, and tried to add longer screws. Unfortunately this didn’t solve it, so it looks like a trip to Heartland factory will be in our future. We also discovered that one of our aluminum wheels had a crack in it, through the spoke, in two places. I guess we’re lucky we discovered it here, where we have time and resources to find a solution!

crack in wheel

After we got the rig set up, we drove the truck back over for it’s separate weighing. Once that was done, it was too late to join the 50 other Heartlanders headed out to dinner, so we opted for a quick meal in our rig. After that, we did some walking around and meeting our neighbors, and visiting with old friends. Turns out, it doesn’t get dark until after 9PM here!

Our site at the Cam-Plex

Wednesday June 13, 2012 Towering Amazement

Today was still considered a “pre-rally” day, so there was not much going on at the CAM-PLEX just yet. Vendors were starting to arrive and set up booths, and the display units from Stalkups RV were arriving, as well. We were invited to a potluck breakfast at Jay and Stella’s rig the Leaders of the South Texas Chapter. We met some nice folks and visited with others we knew, and then we decided to hit the road to Devil’s Tower National Monument, located about an hour away from Gillette. Devil’s Tower is a unique rock formation believed to be caused by Magma uplift through existing sedimentary rock layers, millions of years ago. Over time, the softer surrounding material has eroded away to reveal the tower. It is truly awe-inspiring, as a monolith on the landscape, totally foreign to anything around it.

More information on Devil's Tower:

waiting to enter the park

entrance sign

us with the Tower

closeup with new camera

very close up of the upper rim

Once inside the park, the road winds around the base and up to a visitor center, with a small parking area. Good thing we were not pulling the Mammoth, there isn’t a lot of room to maneuver! They do have a lot for larger RVs to park, but unless you had a towed car or could drop your trailer, there really isn’t good parking for RVs close to the base. We explored the small shop and visitor center, and then walked up the hiking path around the base. It was pretty steep, and with the altitude, I got winded quickly! I stopped and found a bench and enjoyed watching people, while Tony explored a little more and took pictures.
We also stopped to take pictures of the groundhogs. They really didn't cooperate, however.

 Devil's Tower with a Sundance 5ver in the foreground

shy groundhog

groundhog with new camera

exiting the park, this red layer of siltstone is what surrounded the tower when it was formed.

The day was turning warm, so we decided to head back to Gillette. We were hungry, and food was unavailable at the park, so we stopped just outside the park at the KOA campground’s store and restaurant. The restaurant service was extremely slow so we decided to cross the street and check out another shop that also served food. We got a burger there and much quicker, so we were happy. We picked up some souvenirs and headed back to the Cam-Plex.

At the Cam-Plex, we stopped in to see what vendors were set up, and went through a few of the Heartland coaches that were on display, before heading home. A few more folks were “in” now, and the park was filling up! Our next-door neighbors arrived as well, Brett and Sandie, from Anna, TX. They have a 21FBS (like our first trailer), and have traveled extensively with it. We’ve visited with them on the Forum quite a bit, and even though we are not too far from each other in Texas, we’ve never met them in person, until now. Nice folks!!

Mammoth between our former trailer model, a 21FBS, and her larger sister, a Landmark

After a while we decided we were hungry. Since we missed the big Heartland get together at the Chop House Restaurant the night before, we decided to go there tonight, instead. Probably better, since some folks waited an hour for their food!

We had a great meal there, both having the Prime Rib, and (thanks to the Rally) a free dessert, too. We also struck up a conversation with a couple next to us; they were here for the Rally, as well, the only Heartland MPG to attend. (The MPG is the smallest, most compact trailer in the fleet. Think egg shaped!)

The Chophouse in Gillette, WY

Prime Rib

After we got back, I had some work to do, so Tony went visiting, and caught up with couple that wants to buy our portable icemaker we had brought to sell at the swap table during the Rally. They came over, and brought their cat! He was on a leash, and enjoyed exploring all inside our rig, while we discussed the icemaker and other things. They liked what they saw, so they bought it! And I got some kitty lovin', too! All in all, a busy, fun-filled day.

Thursday, June 14th   Let’s Get Ready to RALLY!

This morning we decided we needed to go to the Chevy Dealer and get the little plastic piece for the truck bed handle. Who knew such a small piece of plastic, (about 1” by ½”) could be so expensive! Nearly $10!

We also ran some other errands and then went to some of the seminars put on at the Rally.  We also visited the vendor booths, and explored the display coaches. One became increasingly interesting to us, a 2012 Big Horn 3585RL. It had a great floor plan, but more importantly, all the extras we wanted for our next coach: dual pane windows, Yeti package, Level Up auto leveling system, half-body paint, electric cord reel, larger fridge, and more. We can also tow it with our current truck, based on the numbers we got from our rig-weigh earlier this week. Just for grins, we decided to talk to the roaming salesperson, to see what they were willing to sell it for. After an hour of waiting, we were not impressed by the offer, so we decided to move on. It just wasn’t the right time. But it did open up a possibility to consider a Big Horn in the future.

The Cam-Plex campgrounds are full of Heartlands! Just a couple of shots, I just can't get them all in a single pic.

Thursday evening was the Potluck dinner, with 260+ folks in attendance!  The Chop House provided bar-be-que, and there were TONS of sides. We had a great time, hanging out with others from the Texas area, including our friends Jay and Stella from Spring and Dan and Ruth Ann from Austin.

After dinner I did some work, and there was a small shower that passed over just after we got back in the rig, so not much visiting happened that evening.

Friday, June 15th   The Rally Continues!

We continued to attend many of the presentations and seminars held at the Rally hall, and I worked occasionally as well. We purchased some LED lighting for the bedroom reading lights, because they get awfully hot and I got tired of almost burning my fingers trying to position the light or turn them off. The LED lights are actually brighter! They are the same warm “color” as the ones they replaced, and I was very pleased how “cool” they are.
For dinner, the meal was catered by the Chop House with giant chicken halves! We were asked to wear our Rally t-shirts, so the view was a sea of YELLOW.

Enjoying dinner and door prizes

Yellow, everybody!

This night, we ate with the crowd from the Oklahoma Chapter, many of which we met at the Canton, TX and Spring, TX Rallies. They were a lot of fun! Turns out, one of the couples had purchased one of the display coaches, earlier that day, so they were very excited about the transition that was about to take place. This night, Heartland also gave away door prizes! Every couple got at least one item, and some got two! Prizes ranged from Kindle Fire tablets, gift cards for fuel, portable video cameras, various camping products, and more. It took about an hour to give away all the prizes. After that, we were entertained for the evening by Kenny Miller, a tribute singer that did Elvis, Merle Haggard, Roy Orbison, and others. He was really good, even though he was getting over a cold!!

After dinner we enjoyed visiting with folks around us. We tried to go for a “walk” but you never get very far without a conversation taking place and standing around because of it. That’s OK, we really enjoyed visiting with everyone!!

Clouds at sunset

Saturday, June 16th   Coal Mining Up Close

This morning, two groups were scheduled to go on a tour of the Eagle Butte Coal Mine, not far from Gillette. We were in the second group, scheduled to leave at 10AM. We were all ready, but the bus was a little late returning with the 8AM group. Oh well, more time to visit!

We rode the bus over to a lookout area, where the Mine Representative told us many facts and figures about how much coal is removed every day. They also had a display tire off of one of the loaders, and a bucket from one of the shovels used in the mining operation. Off in the distance, we could see the tiny trucks and shovels, moving dirt and coal.

Mine overlook

A bucket used in the process. They use bigger ones now!

one of the tires off a loader

Then we boarded the bus again, to go over to the area where coal is dumped from trucks into a crusher.  From there, it’s sent via conveyer to a silo, where they then load it onto trains. We got to see a train being loaded with coal. The train never stops, it just rolls through at a slow pace and the exact amount of coal is poured into the car. They said they fill up to 6 trains a day, each 1 to 1.5 miles long. They supply 55% of the coal used in the Nation today. WOW! We also got to see the machinery they use to haul dirt and coal. Up close, it was not TINY at ALL! The tires on this thing cost $55K a piece! It was really amazing to see.

793 CAT, bringing approx. 240 tons of coal to the crusher (tires are 12 feet tall on these!)

loading train cars (120 tons of coal, each)

see the blue barrel, for scale

for scale, this is our view out the bus window.

$55,000 for one tire

There were more great seminars today, and vendor purchases. I had to work, so Tony went to a few without me. I decided I needed better lighting at the desk where I work, so we talked to the same vendor we got the bedroom lights from. They let us take the display bulbs back to our rig, and try them out! We ended up with two that produce more light, but the same warm “color” of light, so they do not stand out from the other lights in the rig.

Dinner tonight was Italian, catered by the Chop House.  We sat with another couple we hadn’t met yet, and enjoyed the BIG door prize giveaways, even though we didn’t win. Prizes included things like a $250 gift card, a remote controlled RV door lock, a handmade Elk antler lamp, a Fantastic Fan, and more. After the giveaways and thank yous, we had entertainment. Sarah Getto, a young woman who was born blind, but has taught herself to sing and play the piano, as well as other instruments. She sings to tracks, however, she herself plays all the music and sings the backup vocals on her tracks. She was really good!

After dinner, we did some more visiting, and then decided to start getting the rig ready to go in the morning. All of us have to vacate the fairgrounds tomorrow, as another RV Rally is supposed to be coming in. We have to replace that cracked wheel, too, before we can go! Overall the Rally has been a lot of fun.

Eileen at the Cam-Plex Box Elder Campground, Gillette, Wyoming

Sunday, June 17th  Goodbye Gillette, hello Cody!

Today we packed up and got ready to go. We decided to eat in the rig rather than go to the Rally breakfast, just because we wanted to make sure we could get our wheel changed and still leave on time. We made quick work of getting the rig ready, hooked up and then Tony and I used our two 12 ton bottle jacks to lift the frame. The whole process went vey smoothly, and we got the wheel switched out to the spare pretty quickly. We decided to put our tire monitor system on the spare, just to keep an eye on it.

Since we finished getting the rig ready to go, we decided we had time to make the worship service that the Rally was having at 10AM. We got ready and rode over with our friends Jay and Stella, since our truck was already hooked up. The service was small, but we had a good service with a great message. One of the memorable comments made by Rev. Buddy Riddle stuck with me. He said he doesn’t use the word “Awesome” to describe things. Awesome should be reserved for the things GOD does. He is an awesome God… So I have been mindful of using “awesome” now!

After Service, we said our goodbyes to many folks we’d met during the Rally, and headed back to get ready to leave. A few of us had decided to caravan to Cody, WY, and planned to follow the route recommended by Dave, the Wyoming Chapter Leader. We headed out about 11am with 5 rigs… Three Landmarks and two Elk Ridges!

Our caravan in the side view mirror

After a little while we stopped at a rest stop, to catch up and make sure everyone was still on the same page. We also coordinated walkie-talkies so we could communicate easily between rigs.

Our caravan at a rest stop

We again started out, and quickly realized the terrain was changing. We were headed straight for the mountains! We entered the Big Horn Mountains on Hwy 16. Here you can read more about it:

Heading for the mountians

Up and up

and up and up

great views, even in the side mirror

 The views were amazing! At one point, our caravan was broken into two groups, so we pulled over to wait for them to catch up. 

We crossed over the Powder River Pass at 9,677ft, and there was still snow on the ground!

cresting the pass, above the tree line


At one point, we encountered road construction, where the road transitioned into DIRT! The walkie-talkies lit up with comments, as we were all glad we hadn’t paid for a rig wash at the rally! We drove through some areas that were a little muddy, too, so the rig came to Cody with a little mountain-dirt attached.

a little off-road action

hope the brakes work!

Old Hwy 16

Down and down and down

Just as we finished descending from the steep grades into Ten Sleep Canyon, our tire monitor went off, alerting us to a low tire. We notified the caravan, and we all pulled over. Sure enough, the valve stem appeared to be leaking. We nursed the trailer down the road till we could find a safe place to pull over and see what to do. The caravan leader spotted a small church, with a parking lot big enough for at least 4 of the rigs, so we pulled in there. Thanks to others in the group, we were able to switch out the valve core, and air the tire back to 70lbs (would have liked 80). Others in the group went ahead and drove to the next town of Ten Sleep to look for a repair shop.

Someone must have been watching out for us, because on a Sunday afternoon, in a town of 304, they found a small repair shop with a lone worker still there! We took it easy and drove the few miles into town, and stopped at Ten Sleep Repair, where a nice young man removed the tire and replaced the valve stem. While we were waiting on the repair, we sent most of the caravan on without us. Our friends, Jay and Stella stayed behind. Next door to the repair shop was Dirty Sally’s Soda Fountain and Western Gifts. The rustic building was originally built in 1918 as a bank. I bought a few souvenirs to remember our time here, and Jay was nice enough to buy us ice cream while we waited for the tire work.

Ten Sleep, Wyoming

Tire repair

Once the tire was fixed, we headed on. One more bit of adventure… part of the plastic molding on the bulkhead started to come off as we were driving. We alerted our friends, and they slowed for us. I was able to jump out and remove the molding quickly, and we resumed. This molding was removed for the repair work the Heartland techs did, I guess they didn’t get it back in place entirely. Oh well, we can pick up some at any RV parts place.

We eventually made it to Cody, WY and the Ponderosa Campground about 6PM. Whew! Our four-hour drive ended up taking seven, but we made it. As soon as we walked in to the office and said we were with the Heartland group, they started apologizing. Apparently there was a mix-up and our site with the other Heartland Owners was not available. They gave us various options, but we ended up in a site that seemed more like an afterthought, a “pull over” from the road through the park. Oh well, we were there. It would be fine, we said. We were sited next to “Two Toes”, a brand new owner, from California. He had bought his rig in Mesquite, TX, and we had been talking back and forth on the Owner’s Forum to help him out. Our rigs were back-end-to-back-end, less than 6 feet apart. This normally would not have been ideal, but, hey! It was Tony Two Toes! And a nice new Cyclone! So we were OK with it. We got settled in and ate dinner, then went and visited with some of the others. But we retired pretty quickly… it had been a long day.

Welcome to Cody, Wyoming!

Our site at the Ponderosa Campground, Cody, WY

Monday, June 18th   Rest and Deal with the Wheel

Today we decided to take a day off and rest. First order of business was to see about getting our replacement wheel from Tredit, the Tire and Wheel supplier for Heartland products. I called them, and they quickly sent me information to fill out for the warranty claim. I did so, and then agreed to pay for expedited shipping, to get the wheel by Thursday, so that we could get it replaced before the weekend. It took about an hour to finalize the paperwork, but hey, it’s a free replacement wheel! We explored Cody a bit, even tried the local Mexican Food at Zapatas. (Um, nice try… but it ain’t REAL Mexican food.) We discovered a nice sweet shop next door, with samples, which lead to purchases! 

We also decided to seek out the RV repair place, to get the molding for the bulkhead replaced. In the small store, they had many stuffed/mounted animals. Here was the closest I've been to an Elk. It was mounted very low to the ground, so you could see "eye-to-eye" with it!

After that, we headed home, and I did some work. Tony visited with other Heartland owners, and we had a nice relaxing day!

Tuesday, June 19th   A Date with the Tetons

We decided to get up extra early and visit the Grand Teton National Park. This park is located south of Yellowstone, near Jackson, Wyoming, and would be about a 3-hour drive to get there. We packed a lunch and headed out about 7:30AM. 

We first had to head West to Yellowstone, then through the park south to the Tetons. The canyons and mountain passes, valleys, rock formations and forests that surround this area are magnificent. It is hard to see man’s impact here in this part of Wyoming, and that is what makes it unique… Wyoming is still very wild! We passed a large herd of Elk, and saw buffalo as well as we entered Yellowstone National Park. The road through the park is wondrous with changing terrain, and areas of forest fires have impacted the landscape. But it is still fascinating to see the process of this renewal underway.

Interesting rock formations along the Shoshone River

Imposing canyon walls

Entering Yellowstone National Park, East Entrance

Over Sylvan Pass

Forest fire remains

scorched sentinals

Yellowstone Lake

Heading towards the Tetons

We entered the Grand Tetons national park about 10:30ish. We couldn’t help but stop and take lots of pictures! It was gorgeous. The road took us along the shore of Jackson Lake, with dramatic views of the Tetons. These mountains are very jagged, rugged, with very little vegetation, and rise sharply straight out of the lake, it seems.

Grand Teton National Park entrance

Jackson Lake

Wild flowers at Jackson Lake

They are GRAND

 We then drove further into the park, and to Jenny Lake. The views were even more breathtaking! There is a ferry that can take you to the other side of Jenny Lake, but we did not have time to do that this trip. We enjoyed our lunch, and explored the visitor center and gift shops. The weather was wonderful! Cool enough for long sleeves and jeans! (High in the 60s!)

Tony taking pictures

Tony walked down to the edge of Jenny Lake. Notice how clear the water is!

We then took the scenic route up Signal Mountain Road… A single lane road that switchbacks up to an overlook over the valley and the Snake River, as well as a higher view of the Tetons and Jenny Lake. It was fine going up, but coming down, we had to be careful of blind corners and oncoming traffic. It was worth it though!

View of the snake river, from Signal Mountain overlook

Us and Jenny Lake, with Tetons, from Signal Mountain.
A couple from Grapevine, TX took our picture!

About 3pm we headed back to Cody. It was a long drive back, but the scenery made it seem to go by fast. One of the neat landmarks as drew near Cody is the Buffalo Bill State Park, highlighted by the reservoir created by the Buffalo Bill Dam. The North and South Forks of the Shoshone River flow from the Absaroka Mountains and Shoshone National Forest. The two branches of the river meet at Buffalo Bill Reservoir, the impoundment created by the Buffalo Bill Dam, the tallest in existence at its completion, 325 feet, in 1910.

Buffalo Bill Reservoir

As soon as we got back to civilization, a flood of email arrived, including some from my main customer. There was a concern to get a large project as completed as possible, so that they could print it for a conference this weekend. I understood my obligation, and we adjusted our plans for the next few days so that I could work.

We ate dinner and took it easy for the rest of the evening. We had a long day!

Wednesday June 20th   More Rigs come in for the Rally

Today I worked pretty much all day, making changes requested. More Heartland rigs arrived today, and it is becoming obvious a Rally is fixin’ to happen! Tony went to Wal-Mart for groceries, and also took our laundry to a Laundromat to be done, since the RV park’s machines always seemed to be full. In the evening, we joined a group of other Heartlanders, by going to The Silver Dollar Bar for hamburgers. They were great! We took up 3 tables with 6 at each. We were having a good time, I suppose, because when we all left, the place was noticeably quieter, and people watched us leave! LOL! Our friends Bret and Sandie from Anna came in today, too.

The Silver Dollar Bar

Thursday June 21st   The Rally Starts!

Today I worked all day getting final files ready for my customer. The wheel came in for the trailer tire, so Tony decided to take it and get the tire switched and the wheel balanced, so it would be ready to be installed before we left.

Just a few of the rigs here for the Rally

Just before dinnertime, I felt the files were ready to go, I just had to upload them, so we headed over for the Rally’s official kickoff! Dave cooked burgers and hotdogs, and may folks brought side dishes as well. We had a great time with 50+ folks in attendance. After dinner, I uploaded the files and we went to bed. We planned to head back and visit Yellowstone National Park tomorrow!

Friday, June 22nd   Geysers and Fumaroles and Waterfalls, Oh my!

Today we headed back to Yellowstone National Park, leaving early again, knowing we didn’t have much time to see all we wanted. We headed first to see Old Faithful. We had to wait about 40 minutes for the next approximate eruption of the geyser. While we were waiting, we did the walking tour of part of the geyser basin around Old Faithful. We didn’t see it all, because we hurried back to sit and watch Old Faithful. Oh well, more for the next trip! Here are a few pics of what we did see.

Tony and the Geyser Basin

WOW, it was worth it. This geyser is pretty impressive. Probably 40-50 feet into the air, at the height of the eruption.

Old Faithful

Us and Old Faithful

After exploring the visitor center and souvenir shops, we headed to the other main attraction we wanted to see, the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone and the Waterfall. It was quite a drive to the other end of the park, but the scenery was amazing. We saw elk and bison along the way, and many other areas we could have pulled over to explore, but with our limited time, we just couldn’t see it all.


Another Elk, taken with the new camera


We got to the Upper Falls overlook and WOW, how radical the scenery changes again! God’s work here is Awe-inspiring.

The Falls

The canyon


About 3:30, we had to head back to Cody, to be sure we were ready for the potluck dinner tonight! More great pics along the way.

Bison herd near the road

Snow-capped mountains across Yellowstone Lake

More fire ravaged pines

Sylvan Pass (on the left, about mid picture, is a cannon and a small building. We assume for avalanche control).

Along the Shoshone River

We got home and got ready or dinner. We had a great meal, with lots of great food, fun and fellowship. Dave and Amy have hosted a great rally! Tonight they gave away door prizes. We won a cast iron sandwich griller, which can be used over a campfire. We had a great time meeting new folks, visiting with old friends. Dave made us walk over to the Park’s tee-pees for a picture after dinner, but we forgave him… The pic turned out great, and we even saw a few deer in the nearby canyon.

50+ Heartlanders gathering for potluck at the Wyoming Chapter Rally

Wyoming Chapter Rally attendees

Saturday, June 23rd   Waffles, Pizza and more!

Today we got up and headed over to Dave and Amy’s trailer, for Waffles! Dave was making them over his gas grill, with a cast iron waffle maker that typically works over a flame. They seemed to take a long time to make (compared to Eggo waffles) but man, they were delicious! After breakfast we decided to spend time in Cody, and do a little shopping. We headed into town and visited many of the touristy shops and buildings down the center of town. The Irma Hotel, built in 1902 by Buffalo Bill, is a noted attraction in Cody.

The Irma Hotel

We decided to eat lunch at a recommended Italian place, Adriano’s. We had Pizza, and wow, it was great! The service was terrific and we really enjoyed the atmosphere.

Great looking pizza!

After we finished shopping, we headed home and enjoyed relaxing in the rig. Too bad we have to head home tomorrow! At dinnertime, we met up with the rest of the Rally-goers for a short walk over to the Sunset House Restaurant for a nice buffet dinner. We had a great time visiting with Dave and Amy and Lou and Bette, (a couple with a Road Warrior toy hauler). They like to take motorcycle excursions. Dave told us a lot about the area and the way of life in Cody. Sounds like a good place to live. After dinner we hung out with rally folks until it got dark. Overall, a great time.

Watching the sun set and the moon come out

Today I decided to call my folks to check on my grandmother. Her health had been declining in recent months, and my folks had been out to visit her. They told me that she had suffered a slight stroke and could not communicate or move, so we decided to prepare for a possibility the stop through Amarillo might need to be longer. She is 94 years old, and has had a full life. I look forward to seeing her again in a few days.

We hit the road back to Texas tomorrow.

Eileen at Ponderosa Campground, Cody, WY

Sunday, June 24th   Heading Back South – Cheyenne KOA

This morning we got up early to get the rig ready to go and change the tire to the new wheel, before we left to head to Cheyenne, WY. We got the tire changed OK, but Tony realized his pump was not functioning properly. He borrowed one from another Heartlander, and we were soon ready to roll.

We pulled the rig forward and then backed it up again, to get to our sewer hose we had to run under the trailer. Upon doing so, we rubbed up against the pine tree, at the corner of the site. Just as we were about to head over to Dave and Amy’s one more time for donuts and goodbyes, I noticed a small baby bird on the ground, about 10 feet from the tree. Apparently, Mammoth likes to play "Angry Birds"! The only thing we could figure was the brushing against the tree limbs catapulted the baby out of the tree onto the ground. I got a paper towel and gathered the bird, and put it onto the side of the tree, hoping mom (who was frantically flying around) could coax baby back where it needed to be. Sorry birds! Don't be too angry!

After donuts and well-wishes, we pulled out of the park about 9:15am. We headed Southeast on 120, toward Thermopolis. The scenery again changed as we left Cody, into rolling hills of grassland, and then into more rocky landscape, and suddenly, a deep canyon! Wind River Canyon was an amazing gem of landscape that we really weren’t expecting. It was very steep sided and narrow, with the river and train tracks running beside the winding road. The canyon terminated with another dam and reservoir, Boysen Dam and reservoir. This is a fairly large body of water, too, not far from the town of Thermopolis. I again thought of my friend Dale!!

approaching Wind River Canyon


Boysen Reservoir

changing landscape

more changing landscape

interesting rock formations

We continued on and made it to Casper, Wy desperately needing fuel. We didn’t realize there were no real towns between Thermopolis and Casper!

We then continued on to the Cheyenne KOA, east of the town of Cheyenne. The park is all gravel, but well maintained and spacious. We got settled in and enjoyed a walk around the park, and stopped to talk to a couple sitting outside their Big Horn. They were WorKamping there at the KOA, and full-timing in their rig, originally from Florida. Nice folks! We told them we had been to the National Heartland Rally and encouraged them to join the forum. We headed back home after a quick stop at the park’s store, and settled in.

Lightning could be seen in the distance, so I started watching the radar. Storms were approaching. I stayed up till after 11pm, watching the weather, but luckily we never had more than light rain.

storms approaching

Eileen at Cheyenne, WY KOA

Monday, June 25th   Crossing Colorado, ON FIRE!

We loaded up and left Cheyenne, on the road by 9ish. We could smell the wood smoke from the wildfires burning in Colorado already! When we had passed through Colorado in early June, we could see the smoke near Longmont, Colorado, a fire called the High Park fire. It was still burning, some two weeks later. And there was the Waldo Canyon fire, which was threatening parts of Colorado Springs. All in all, there were at least 10 separate wildfires burning in the state that day. We saw planes and helicopters working the fire near Colorado Springs, as we passed by.

Colorado looked hazy!

Those aren't clouds, but smoke from the High Park fire

Smoke as seen from I-25, just beyond Colorado Springs

More smoke near Colorado Springs

The temperatures were also very high for what you’d expect in Colorado, topping 102 as drove through the Colorado Springs area. Our truck was none-too-happy either with the climbing and hot temps, and showed a few gauges were creeping up. We tried to take it easy, and made it over Raton pass with no overheating.

going over Raton Pass

Watch for Bears?

We got to the Raton KOA about 4PM and got set up. We don’t do too much setup, as we are only staying overnight. We decided not to even unhook the 5ver. This is a much older park, and at first, I was not sure about the site they had put us in. There were electrical lines strung from pole to pole at each site for the hookups, and these lines seemed to be within 6-8 inches of the AC unit. With the wind blowing, they seemed to get even closer! I asked if we could move sites, and they obliged. The new site still had power lines above it, but they seemed further up. We also got a little more shade in this site.

After dinner, we went for a walk around the park, and took a few pictures, and I did some work. Due to the slow internet connection, I didn’t do very much!

Tony and the entrance at Raton KOA

Eileen at Raton, NM KOA

Our site at Raton KOA

Tuesday, June 26th   Amarillo and the Oasis

We packed up and headed out about 10:30am. A little slower today, but we didn’t have too far to go, we were only 215 miles from Amarillo. We had a fairly uneventful trip… And were about an hour outside of Amarillo, when I called my aunt to tell her where we were. Mom and Dad were also on their way to Amarillo, so we decided to stay at an RV Park nearby, rather than impose too much on my aunt and uncle with more houseguests. We got to Amarillo about 4:30 and checked in at the Oasis RV Resort on I-40, just West of Amarillo, very near the famous buried cadillacs at Cadillac Ranch. We've been there before, so we didn't stop. Read more about them here:

Cadillac Ranch

Cadillac Ranch (zoomed in)

The Oasis is a large park, with large cement pad sites, but not much greenery. The pull-throughs are nice and long and each site has a pad for a picnic table, but there are none, which seems unusual for a “Resort”. The bathrooms and laundry were just one row over from our site.

The entrance

Remind you of anything?

Our site at The Oasis Resort, Amarillo, TX

We got settled in, and then headed over to my grandmother’s care facility. I’m glad we got to visit her! After a short while, my folks arrived as well. We spent some more time there, then decided to go and eat dinner. After dinner and visiting, we headed back to the RV park for the evening. On the way in, we noticed another Heartland 5th wheel, nearby. After a closer look, we realized it was Terry and Carol, the new North Texas Chapter Leaders! We made a point to stop by and say hi in the next few days.

Wednesday, June 27th   A Sad Day

Today, I had to work on various projects, so Tony washed clothes at the RV Park laundry, and ran a few errands. About 4:15, I called to check on my grandmother, and we got the sad news she had passed away.

Saturday June 30   The 2nd Largest Canyon

Today we decided to spend the afternoon visiting the second largest Canyon in the U.S., Palo Duro Canyon State Park. We’ve been near it many times, but haven’t stayed in Amarillo long enough to make the trip down into it. We decided since we were here this long, we need to go and see it, as well as scope out the campgrounds at the bottom for future stays. 

Palo Duro Canyon is roughly 120 miles long and has an average width of 6.2 miles, but reaches a width of 20 miles in places. Its depth is around 820 ft. but in some locations it can increase up to 997 ft. Palo Duro Canyon has been named "The Grand Canyon of Texas" both for its size and for its dramatic geological features, including the multicolored layers of rock and steep mesa walls similar to those in the Grand Canyon.

We left mid morning to drive to the canyon. It was quite unusual to see signs pointing us to a large canyon, yet the landscape was flat and barren. Where was this canyon? It was hidden, until we were right on top of it! Then the ground fell away, and deeply! The canyon was carved deep into the ground, deep below the visible horizon. We went ahead and renewed our Texas Parks Pass, and headed down. The layers of rock and sediment varied widely from top to bottom of this scarred landscape. It really was intriguing to get to travel “though time” down through the layers, to the bottom of the canyon! We stopped at a few turnouts to take pictures, and explored the campsites. All areas have back-in sites, but the access seems do-able even for us and the Mammoth. Many hiking trails and paths are accessible, and we’d like to explore this area further. (Not today, it’s 107!)

We drove the 1.5-mile loop and enjoyed the scenery. So vastly different than the typical West Texas plains! One thing of note, there are 7 low-water crossings throughout the canyon floor. If they do get lots of rain, I can see how one could easily be trapped or delayed by these crossings. A few had water standing in them, but at the time, none were flowing, and many were dry.

We stopped at the visitor center and store, for our usual souvenirs and a break from driving. After we’d seen all we could, we headed back to Amarillo. This park will definitely be on our list to visit and stay sometime!

Entrance to Palo Duro Canyon State Park


View that matches the Kiosk

Us and Palo Duro Canyon

Winding road down into the canyon

Tony driving into the canyon

An RV campsite

Another view from the rim overlook

Another view, next to the Visitor Center located on the Canyon Rim. This rustic native stone building was constructed by the Civilian Conservation Corps in 1934.

Another view from the rim overlook

Another view from the rim overlook, next to the Visitor Center

In the evening, we met back up with more relatives, in town for my grandmother’s funeral, and celebrating my Dad’s birthday. We went to eat at Leal’s Mexican Restaurant, and I had the best avocado enchiladas! After dinner we headed back to the RV park, as we were wiped out from the day’s travels.

Eileen at the Oasis RV Resort, Amarillo, TX

Tuesday, June 3rd Headed Home

Yesterday was the funeral for my grandmother. Today, we packed up to finally head home. We left about 9:15, and had a normal, uneventful trip. We did notice that some of the filling stations we had notated for diesel had changed brands. Looks like Exxon is no longer the fuel brand with the Allsups or Taylor Convenience store chains along Hwy 287.

We decided to stop in Denton at the Camping World, as we needed a few things for some minor repairs and replenish exhausted rv supplies. After grabbing a quick bite at DQ, we headed on down I-35 to the George Bush Turnpike, which, although a tollway, is much quicker and less stressful than going into Dallas and taking the I-635 loop around. We got home about 7PM, unloaded perishables and such, and collapsed.

It has been a great RV trip -- 25 nights -- a true test to whether we can stand to “live” in our coach, and tolerate the small space and unexpected issues that arise when living in a rolling home. ;) We LOVED IT! And can’t wait to go again.