Butte Montana

There’s a pattern developing with our campsites. After driving a couple hundred miles each day, we pull into an RV park to get an evening’s rest. We’ve planned these stops and reserved our spaces before we left. RV Parks have become the motels of our generation. Each of the parks that we’ve stayed at have amenities that make life on the road more pleasant. One of those things is a WiFi connection that makes it possible to communicate with you while on the road.

Of the four places we’ve stayed in, three were really accessible from the highway, while last night’s was . . . well, out-of-the-way. It was in Thornton, Idaho. I know! Where the heck is that? It’s a wide spot in the road north of Idaho Falls and it was a detour from Interstate 15.

The pattern I’m referring to is this. The more convenient a park is to the highway, the more the highway conveniently runs through your bedroom. So far we’ve had semi trucks, trains, freeway noise and industrial sites as our ambient background noise throughout the evening. We dismissed it as part of being on the road, until last night.

Thornton Mercantile
The abandoned Thornton Mercantile and Cafe sits empty along the east side of the street.

When we pulled up to the park in Thornton, we all thought we’d made a big mistake. This wasn’t a big city or quaint little town. It was a spot on a side road with a couple of abandoned grain elevators, a row of closed businesses on the east side of the road and a potato shipping plant across the street. We could easily see the railroad tracks running along the road. It was the train blaring that got us up early in Provo and we thought here we go again. With some apprehension, we turned into the driveway of the Thompson RV Park.

Potato Packing Plant
Potato shipping plants on Thornton’ s west side

When we parked inside of the gate and went to the office to register, we were surprised to find a lovely park with gardens, fish pond, mature trees and lots of space to spread out. After setting up, we had a chance to wander the gardens where Linda Thompson joined us and pointed out all the flower variety growing. “You should have been here when the tulips were growing.” We could imagine what we missed because everything else was still in bloom.

She proudly pointed to a willow tree that she had planted nearly 50 years ago. “It was a twig in one of my mother’s funeral arrangements and when the flowers faded, I stuck it in the ground. I call it the Mom tree.” The house was over a hundred years old and they’ve run the park for about half that time. She explained that she and her husband want to retire and sell the place. They want to move to someplace warmer.

Thompson Gardens
The gardens at the Thompson RV Park have been lovingly cared for by the owners for fifty years.

How was our stay? Dead quiet except for the occasional peacock call in the distance. We could hear that because it was remarkably quiet otherwise. We even talked in hushed tones around our gathering. It will be a shame when the Thompson’s leave. I can’t imagine Corporate America giving the love and care to keep the place the same.


Provo Utah

We put another 250 miles on today, and we arrived at Provo, an hour and a half south of Salt Lake City. Today’s route is one of my all time favorite drives. Head north out of Kanab following US Route 89. It provides access to Zion and Bryce Canyons, and a handful of State Parks too. Traffic was light, so we had time to look at the scenery. Unfortunately, not enough time to get any shots (Besides, the light is never perfect during the day).

When asked tonight, someone said that lunch was the highlight of the day. It was pretty good. We stopped again at Big Daddy’s Deli on a side street in Richfield. Anne, Sally and I ate there on a trip to Yellowstone a few years ago. Food is still good, and I’d recommend it for lunch if you’re in the area.

Tomorrow, we will be in Idaho. However, we will be traveling on I15 and through Salt Lake City. I  don’t consider it a day of oo’s and ah’s. I must admit that the Wasatch Range is a pretty backdrop for the town.


Kanab Utah

It took longer than planned, but we made it to Kanab Utah, our toughest leg of our trip. I think we misjudged the time it would take to go through Prescott. A lot of traffic and a lot of twisty roads. We left Congress a little after seven in the morning and arrived at our camping site just before 5 PM. Since Kanab is on daylight savings time, we lost an hour and the trip took ten hours averaging 45 miles an hour. That’s including potty breaks, emergency stops, and lunch.

The girls stretch their legs
Deb, Sally and Anne stretch their legs in the shade of Sally’s RV.

We only made it to the top of Yarnell hill when Sally called on the walkie-talkie that one of her tire pressures was over 100 pounds. We pulled to the side of the road and sure enough, it was. After letting enough air out to match the others, we were back on the road.

Mickie D’s hosted lunch in Flagstaff. After taking four hours to get there, we were ready for the break. After that we made really good time as the roads and weather were good.

Picture of Kanab's main street.
Located on the southern border of Utah, Kanab hosts tourists visiting the Grand Canyon, Bryce, and Zion National Parks.

Kanab is a little tourist town in southern Utah. It’s only six miles across the border from Arizona situated between the Grand Canyon, Bryce and Zion. It’s loaded with tourists and has a couple of nice restaurants. It’s most striking feature is that it is nestled under the Vermilion Cliffs and the brilliant colors they have at the end of the day.

Tomorrow we strike out for Provo. It will be a better day as the distance isn’t as great and there aren’t as many long pulls we have to climb. And to think, we only have 89 more days like this.


Preparation – Apps

When I plan a trip like this one, I try to learn as much as I can about my destination. I want to know about the history, the climate, and what what’s cool about it, what makes me want to go there in the first place. I look for websites of local photographers and I look at the pictures on Google Earth. Along with all of that acquired knowledge, Queen Anne and I pack local travel guides and when we arrive, I pick up the best maps I can find. I can spend hours going over maps, mile by mile.

This Denali trip isn’t different, only this time we’ve stepped into the 21st Century. Anne just got a smart phone and I bought a tablet, and we’ve loaded several apps to help manage our trip better.

When traveling with an RV, it’s important to plan your camp sites. That’s what AllStays does for us. At $9.99, AllStays is the most expensive application we bought. This app uses Google Maps and overlays campgrounds, dump stations, LP dealers, casinos and even Walmarts along the route. Clicking on an icon opens a dialog box showing a brief description of the item and links to the location’s Website, directions from your current location, current weather conditions, pictures, reviews and if the campground is Web savvy, it will open a page that allows you to pick out a campsite and book it. The app also shows steep downgrades, low bridges, and escape roads, so you can change your route. It’s an impressive little app well worth the price.

When traveling, I always have a hard time reconciling all of my receipts and checkbooks. The next app that I bought will help me with that. This app is called AndroMoney and it was built mostly for business travelers. In it, you to enter something that you paid for and then stick it into a bucket, like personal, business or medical expense. You can start out with a budget amount and it will show you if you are over or under your daily, monthly, or annual allotment. It has built in reports and you can export the data to Excel or another money management programs. The cost for this was a staggering $2.99. At that price I figured that I couldn’t go wrong even if I only didn’t use most of its functions.

The next app is called TripLog and is free (upgrades are available for a small fee). You all know someone that keeps a mileage logbook in their car; don’t you? That’s what this app does. Each time you stop for gas, you enter the odometer reading, the amount of gallons, the fuel price and total sale. You can also enter other auto expenses like oil changes, car washes and such. You can log each trip you make with your vehicle and categorize them as business or personal and TripLog will generate a report that you can use for filling out taxes. There is a feature that allows you to connect a Bluetooth OBDII reader. Without getting too technical, that’s the port below your steering wheel your mechanic plugs diagnostic stuff into and figures out what the check engine light means. Don’t let that scare you away, you don’t need to use it, just put the numbers in manually. It’s something intriguing to techies because it means the app will automatically start a trip when you turn on the car. I plan on using this program to track segment and overall mileages, and yes I do own an On Board Diagnostic (OBD) reader.

The next two apps that I’ve loaded are just for fun. We are big fans of Food Network and especially the show Diners, Drive-ins and Dives. We’ve tried several of the places that Guy Fieri featured on his show and we pretty much agree with his reviews (actually, if the restraint isn’t good, it won’t make the show). So the app named DDD has the show’s locations. Be still my blood clots. There are even three places in the Fairbanks area that you can bet we’ll try.

Triple D has a pretty good list, but the show was never shot in Canada. The other Food Network app not only includes the Guy Fieri shows, but includes all of the restaurants featured on the network, including the show The Best Thing I Ever Ate. This app is called TV Food Maps and does have places in Whitehorse and Dawson Creek. With all of these places to try, I’m getting antsy to get on the road.

The apps that we’ve loaded are Android devices, of course, if you own the other kind of device, there are versions for IOS that you can get at the Apple Store.


Preparation – The Trailer

Custom Casita Drawer
Custom drawer made to store clothes under the bed.
New Drawer Latch
The drawer latch added this week should keep the drawer from inadvertently opening.

In addition to the regular cleaning, flushing and stocking, to get The Ritz ready for this trip we had to make a couple of inside modifications. Since we permanently configure the rear seating area as our bed, there was a large unused space under the table, so I made a clothing drawer. Storage space in a small RV is premium.

Last year, I installed the drawer on long ball bearing rails so it would easily open and we could get to the back compartment used as a hamper. I expected the rail’s stops would be sufficient to lock it in place while the Casita was being towed. I was wrong.

The rocking, starting and stopping of the trailer is enough to open and close the drawer and because its tolerances are so tight, it ripped off several door knobs of the side cabinets slid open and slammed shut.

This week, I picked up a small gate latch and installed it so that the drawer can be locked to a bulkhead when closed. It’s small enough and in an out of the way location, that I don’t think it will become a nuisance on its own.

The second modification came about because of an ‘Ah Ha’ moment. Since we’ll be traveling through the land of the midnight sun, we will have trouble sleeping with only the sheer curtains covering the windows. Anne channeled Betsy Ross and fabricated a set of black-out curtains to clip on and provide dark sleeping quarters.

The next steps to get The Ritz ready are packing the wheel bearings, checking the brakes, disinfecting the water tanks, then fill it with food and clothes. I also need to find a good local car wash. She may as well start the trip all clean and shiny.


Preparation – Tires

I need to get Fritz (our truck) ready for the trip. Although our Casita trailer weighs about half of what Fritz’s capacity is, it’s a long way to Alaska and back; over a third of the way around the planet. I’d like to prevent troubles before they start.

My newsletter readers already know our gang doesn’t have much luck with tires. <Knock wood> . . . we’ve not had any such trouble this year but it’s not wise to thumb your nose at Lady Luck. Last week, when I had my favorite tire store examine mine, they said that there was enough tread to make the trip but it would be better if I got new ones. After a week of pondering, I’ve decided to follow their advice and spring for new tires.

Fritz came with a set of Michelin run-flats and I’ve replaced those with a second set. When you lose air in a run-flat tire, you’re supposed to be able to drive up to fifty miles on the damaged tire. Theoretically, that will get you to a repair shop. Fortunately, I’ve never had to and don’t want to test that theory. Because Fritz came with this type of tire, he doesn’t have a spare.

I’ve always liked Michelins, but these don’t seem to hold a balance well. Sometimes they’ll roll down the road nice and smooth and other times, there’s bouncing at all four corners. So, I did a little research yesterday and I’m considering trying a set of Bridgestones. I have had a chance to have a set of Bridgestones on Betty, our other car, and I liked how they felt on the highway. The price is almost identical, I’m just hoping for a better ride.

I also want to have a spare for this trip even though there’s no place to put it without giving up luggage space. Fritz has one of those buttons that you push if you’re in trouble and someone comes to rescue you. Looking at the map, I wonder if there’s even cell phone coverage on some of those roads. Believe me, I’ve had plenty of experience changing tires and I’d rather have something I could change than wait for tow truck. While I’m at it, I might as well pick up a matching spare for Ritz, the Casita. So today I have to scour eBay to find a couple of wheels for the rigs.