Category: Driving

Dodge City to Great Sand Dunes National Park

Friday, June 24, 2022

There are three routes to Great Sand Dunes National Park. We took 56 southwest to 160 because I had never traveled it. This was the last big travel day getting to the southwest for our extended tour.

As we drove through working communities of Ensign, Montezuma, Hickok and Ulysses, we drove through serious farm land, land that had to be watered to make it work. Huge windmills covered the area for miles. As we drove on, there was also oil production. A train line went between the towns, loading grain from gigantic silos. The road was also busy with tractor trailers. The communities were more like corporate work areas.

The further west we went, the drier it got. We saw abandoned homesteads, small, stone structures. If Rt. 50 through Arizona and Nevada is appropriately named The Loneliest Road, Rt. 160 to Trinidad might come in second. As the land became drier, even if land was given to people, they couldn’t make it work.

We stopped in the rather abandoned town for a bathroom break. Fortunately, I checked the refrigerator temperature. It was 44 degrees. The gas was not lit, so I turned the refrigerator off, switched propane tanks and turned it back on with no effect. I turned on the gas stove, but the flame was very weak. I know the tanks have propane, but now all kinds of thoughts ran through my head. Did the mice chew up my gas line?

In the small town of Kim, we spotted a big propane tank. Stopping to ask if they did refills, a gentleman said no, but the man across the street sometimes does. Looking across the road, I saw a small, house-type propane tank. I went across and knocked on the door. A gentleman with hearing aids came to the door. “No”, he said, “We used to run the propane business across the street for 30 years, but the new owners don’t do refills.” I told him I thought we had propane, but the flame is weak. He said, “Drive the rig over here. You can turn around in the yard, and I’ll fill it for you.”

Bud was his name, and he is the epitome of a midwest or western gentleman. He also has a camper and appreciates the travel and issues you can have. As he filled the not-so-empty tank, we talked about Kim. There was a pretty stone building across the street that was built by the WPA and is now used by Colorado Highway people.

We thanked Bud profusely, and offered $30 for propane and peace of mind. He took the $10 and refused the $20. 

I loved driving 160 and all it’s changing scenery. I almost hit a big, strong antelope that jumped in front of us, but then jumped back to the side of the road. The speed limit is 65 and I was going 70, so it wouldn’t have been good. I just got a glimpse of him, but I have a vivid picture of him. Best to have a full tank of gas, water and snacks when driving this road. However, if you get in trouble, there are good people to help. 

We stopped for lunch in Trinidad, then turned north on I-25 for 35 minutes to Walsenburg and turned west on 160 again. Pulling into Great Sand Dunes Oasis RV Park, I was a little nervous. When I called to make a reservation, a young man seemed a bit detached. There was no credit card transaction, and they don’t send confirmation emails. We did have a confirmation number. Thankfully, all was well and we proceeded to our campsite. 

It was 3:00, so I had two or three hours to work on our plumbing issue. I am now pretty familiar with taking it all apart, so I removed the faucet with the attached water lines and tried to blow them out with our air compressor. No dice. I tried flushing with water with no luck. I then pushed a wire up the hose, but it wouldn’t go through the faucet. Maybe I’ll just buy a new faucet in Moab, but we still don’t know if the problem is in the faucet or further down the line. Maybe I’ll connect a hose to the cold water line, run it out the door and turn on the water pump. If that runs strong, I’ll put it on the hot water line. If that runs strong, I’ll go buy a new faucet or get someone to take the lines off of this one.

We sat watching the views and the sun go down from our plateau campground overlooking the valley and Great Sand Dunes. It’s so unique to see huge sand dunes up against the Sangre de Cristo Mountains, the southern section of the Rockies.

Columbia, Missouri to Dodge City, Kansas

Thursday, June 23, 2022

We got a record 7:00 start from Cedar Creek Resort and RV Park. This is an OK travel campground with a big lake for swimming or fishing. They have pull-through sites that are level, but with an unusual quirk of putting two campers in these long sites. The second person has to back in, and you have to leave enough room, but it works, and it is a travel campground with good showers.

It was an hour drive to Kansas City, where the traffic became heavy. We turned onto I-435 going to the south side of Kansas City, which seemed to be a nicer city than St. Louis. Then onto I-35 southwest toward Wichita. It was pretty busy, and I was relieved to turn onto Rt. 50, one of my favorite highways. It’s quieter, nicely paved with a speed limit of 65 and pretty countryside. 

We stopped for lunch at a historical marker that described these beautiful grasslands. We took a 20-minute nap before heading back out. The further west we went, the hotter it got. By the time we got to Gunsmoke Campground in Dodge City, it had cooled down to 98 degrees from 102. It was hot!

After a little vegetation, we went downtown to see the sights, taking a self-driving tour. I think the highlight would have been the museum, but we didn’t have a lot of time. Of course there is a lot of history, especially early with Wyatt Earp, Bat Masterson, Doc Holliday and others. It was a big place for the cattle drives. All of this starts after the Civil War, but I’m sure there is a lot of history before that. 

Beginning to tire, we went to Kate’s Restaurant on the south side of the train tracks. There were pictures on the walls of all the history. Not doubt the floors were originals. We had a good meal, and the staff was very nice.

Lexington, Kentucky to Columbia, Missouri

Wednesday, June 22, 2022

Kentucky Horse Park Campground

Heading west on I64, it was an hour to Louisville, where traffic was rather frantic. It seems to be the case in most big cities, but it makes pulling a trailer nerve-wracking. That said, downtown Louisville is very pretty, and the Ohio River had great color.

Once we crossed the river, we were in Indiana, crossing the bottom of the state. Traffic was still busy, but we stopped at the only rest stop in Indiana – on 64 anyway. Then into Indiana, where there were beautiful farmlands. So we started in Virginia and have traveled across West Virginia, Kentucky, Indiana, Illinois and then Missouri. 

Crossing the great Mississippi into Missouri, I64 merges with I70 at Wentzville just west of St. Louis. We passed Lake of the Ozarks, and my old stomping grounds at Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri. So many memories, education and fun in one year! Still dating, Martha and I would meet in St. Louis and have a big time in the big city.

We finally arrived at Cedar Creek Campground, just east of Columbia, Mo. It was a dusty road going in. This is mostly a travel campground, where we could still hear the interstate traffic. It was 95 degrees and hot, but I was having a problem. The galley faucet only dribbled water. The bathroom faucet worked fine. The toiled flushed fine. It was only 3:30, so I dove into the project. 

First I removed the strainer on the faucet, which was full of little, brown stuff, but that didn’t fix it. On Martha’s suggestion, I removed the under-the-sink water filter and bypassed it. Still only a dribble of water. removing the filter, I was surprised to see seeds! Mice could only cause this problem. Were they in the trailer? 

I had recently had a new fresh water tank installed at Airstream of Virginia. How could this be? Thinking back, I had bought the water tank from the Mother Ship, the Airstream home in Jackson, Ohio. I was surprised to find it unboxed and dirty, but apparently, that is the way they ship them. Thinking I would do the job, I had it sitting out at the RV storage lot for maybe six weeks before I contracted Airstream of Virginia to do the work. With holes in the tank for connections, Mice would have loved their new food storage place. 

Disconnecting lines, I think I have narrowed it down to the relatively short faucet lines. I took the faucet off, but couldn’t see how to disconnect the lines from the Moen faucet. It was getting late and it could take a couple more hours to sort this out, so I put it all back together and poured a glass of wine. 

The next morning I did some searching on the internet for directions. I got some ideas, but couldn’t really see how to disconnect the water lines where they go up into the faucet. I think I will disconnect the lines under the sink, then remove the faucet with the lines attached and see if I can blow them out or flush with water.

Heading to The Southwest

Tuesday, June 21, 2022

We are starting a trip to the American southwest. It will take four 7-hour days to get to the first of many national parks and monuments. There are also some great state parks, and the more I study the area, the more interesting things I find. Karen and the kids will be joining us for two weeks starting July 1st.

The first drive was to Kentucky Horse Park in Lexington. During my eventing days, I spent a lot of memorable days there. The campground is very nice and has all the amenities. We took a walk around the equestrian area. There have been so many additions, I hardly recognized it. Hard to believe it has been 30 years since I rode here at the peak of my eventing days. My wonderful thoroughbred, Passion, and I placed sixth at the preliminary level, missing an easy, little jump that could have put us in the top four. Passion wasn’t crazy about dressage, and I was rather unschooled in it, so we were in last place after dressage. To finish 6th after that beginning was pretty cool.

Some people were unloading their gear from some very elegant horse trucks. We stopped to talk, and they told us there was a carriage competition starting Thursday. They had a perfectly matched team of four horses. Peeking into the truck, we drooled at a gorgeous, large carriage. It would be so much fun to see this competition. I’ll have to watch their schedule, as they host lots of events, the biggest being the Rolex International 3-day Event.

Approaching the stadium is a very cool statue of the great Bruce Davidson, an incredible 3-day rider. He was Eventing Association’s Rider of the Year in 1975 and then for 14 consecutive years! 

Jumping into water or over a steep drop, Bruce gives a great release of the reins and balances for the landing

Walking through the inside of the beautiful stadium, I felt like I was at the Horseshoe at Ohio State – well not really that big. There was a walk of fame with pictures and stories of some of the legends of jumping and 3-day events. So many great stories, horses and riders! I could have read them all, and we didn’t even go into the museum! We’ll have to come back!

On The Way to Blackwater Falls State Park, West Virginia

Friday, October 5, 2021

I am on a photography workshop with my friend Mark Zablotsky ( touring and photographing some of the most scenic places in West Virginia. We made several stops on our drive with Mark in the lead and Kevin and I following in our cars.

On our drive from Valley Falls to Blackwater Falls State Park, we stopped a couple of times, including a stop at Archie’s Barbecue, 25259 Garrett Hwy, McHenry, MD 21541. If you are traveling this way, Archies is a happening. Closed inside, a couple told us it was a drive-through during Covid, so we drove around, not noticing the big menus on two sides of the building. We finally figured it out and placed our order. Ten minutes later a young man brought our orders out to one of the picnic tables out front. Soon others drove up, and like us, tried to order from a window in the front. The friendly couple directed them to the drive-through, and we told them where the menus were. Shortly, there were cars and trucks driving up from all three directions. It seemed we were in the middle of nowhere, but it was obviously a hot spot. The food was great, though a bit expensive, but they piled it on. I would certainly go back.

We had some great discussions about “Border Patrol”. “Do you want the weed sticking out? Do you want the blob in the water? Can you crop the picture to clean it up?” One I will forever remember as I was walking away to shoot: “Don’t blow out the highlights Greg.”

It is interesting how fall colors were great in some places while others had barely started. I love shooting barns, and we found some, but traveling in a caravan of three cars, we couldn’t find a safe place to pull over in most places.

Leaving Cataloochee

Wednesday, August 18, 2021

We went for the wildlife drive. It was very foggy, but the forecast was for a sunny day and the rest of the week was just afternoon showers. We saw the herd in the field. Some were lying down, some in the road, but all were fat and happy. We drove to the other end, a bit disappointed we haven’t seen any bears. There are also no deer. Ginger said the elk have driven the deer away. Still, there seems to be plenty of room for deer.

We turned around at the far end. The adjacent stream has gone down considerably, and looks like it would be fishable in a day or two. Through dense fog, we were surprised to see a single elk, because the herd was a half mile away. As we got closer, we could see it was big, with a huge rack. He was half again the size of the other bulls. He was eating fallen apples around a tree across the field. He bugled twice, the first time we heard that. Ginger would later tell us the big bulls stay on their own until time to mate.

At camp, we made pancakes for breakfast. I went over to offer some to Ginger, but she had eaten. She said she had to go to town. Her home town of Canton had historic flood levels. The Pigeon River had flooded several towns, and her mother was without water. I told her we might have to leave today, since our batteries were getting low. She said the road out was fine, but with all this rain, we should stay off the shoulders that might be soft. She said to stay in the middle of the road and make other drivers move over. I asked if she drank wine, and she said she did. I took her a bottle. She is simply the best! 

I went to the “phone booth” and called Greg at Autostar. He said he didn’t know when they could see me. His technician’s home was flooded. I thanked him for their help and paid only $100 for all their efforts. They have been very kind in these crazy times.

I went back to camp and we packed up our wet, soggy stuff. Putting the camp chairs in the truck, there were three yellow bugs on them – Yellow Sallies!

I had driven this road a number of times now. It is no doubt a bit scary, but I went slowly and honked at every blind turn. As we headed down the other side, a man stopped to tell me there was a big tractor/mower coming up the mountain a quarter mile back. “You won’t be able to pass him.”, he said. “Thank you. I’ll wait here.”

The “phone booth”

After waiting 30 minutes, Martha walked down the road to meet him. She texted me to come on, as he pulled into a driveway to wait, but I didn’t get the text. Walking back up the mountain, she yelled at me to come on. We passed him and waved happily.

The GPS took us north to Asheville. Martha had some views of the flooded Pigeon River, and it looked bad. After Asheville, we got on interstate 26, which was very nice, not too crowded, winding through the big mountains. By the time we got on 81 and passed Abingdon, I was getting a bit sleepy. Martha declined driving on a busy 81, so we looked for a place to stay the night, finally deciding on Raccoon Branch, a cute, little campground where we had stayed before.

I26 overlook
From I26 overlook

When we got there, Raccoon Branch was closed. We didn’t know where Grayson Highlands was, but we thought it was close, so we continued up the mountain. It wasn’t close. By the time we got to the state park, no one was at the gate. Driving to the campground, a ranger met us and said that campground was closed because they had no water. GEEZ! It made for a difficult place to turn around, but we made it.

Driving to the Equestrian Campground, I thought, we could have been past Roanoke by now. Thankfully there were lots of campsites. We chose #8, thankful to have a place. Martha took a shower for the first time not in the trailer. 

Grayson Highlands State Park picnic area
Grayson Highlands State Park

We enjoyed a quiet evening sitting by the fire playing some music, and discussing the trip. All I could think about was when I could go back to fish the Smokies. 

So how is the possessed truck you might ask. Thankfully, when driving, there are no problems. If I don’t lock the truck, there are no problems. Then I learned if I lock it with the key, there are no problems, so I removed the electric fob and removed the battery. When I get home, I will change the battery and see what happens. I am happy to not carry the bulky fob in my pocket anyway. If I lock the doors with the button inside, and then unlock with the key, the horn honks until I put the key in and turn it on. If I lock the door with the key, then unlock with the key, there is no honking. So I think it’s all the fob’s fault. Whether it just needs a new battery or not is soon to be determined. Whether is is possessed by the spirits of Cataloochee will be determined when I go back to fish. Right now I am just happy to be relieved of flashing lights, horn honking and very spooky doors rapidly locking and unlocking. And what the heck was that message about opening and then closing the driver’s side window??? As Willie commented, Gayle would have loved that kind of prank. I can hear her laughing to tears now.

Cades Cove to Cataloochee

Sunday, August 15, 2021

I had read about the 11-mile road into Cataloochee Campground on the east side of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. It is a one-lane gravel road with tight turns down the mountain. Pulling a trailer wouldn’t be easy. As I hooked up, I saw our neighbor, who had been here for three days with no solar or generator. I asked how he managed, and he showed me his special batteries, and said it is just him and his wife, and they are frugal with their use. He was a Norwegian named Yens, and his wife is named Liv, “Like live and let live”, she said. He said he likes to fly fish, and now I was very interested. “Do you have any Yellow Sallies?”, he asked. “What’s a Yellow Sally?” I replied. He invited me over to sit under his awning, and pulled out his backpack filled with fly boxes. He gave me three Yellow Sally dry flies. When I declined, he said he has plenty and that he ties his own. Then he showed me his nymph version. Funny how you meet a guy like this on the last day when we have a long drive, but that’s the way it works sometimes. They were a very nice couple who would have been fun to spend some time with. Live said she sometimes goes with him. Other times she reads a book, but lately in these crazy times, she writes her grandchildren, discussing the importance of Christian values. With regret, I said I had best get going, thanked them and wished them well.

Yellow Sallies

I wondered if Martha would just say she wanted to go home. As we headed toward Townsend, I gave her the chance, asking if she was OK. “I’m OK. Are you OK?” So off we went, passing the turn to Townsend and onto the winding, narrow road to Sugarland. Fortunately, the traffic wasn’t as bad as yesterday. There is no cell phone service in the park, so no GPS. We were doing it the old fashioned way – using a paper map. 

At Sugarlands, we took 441 through Gatlinburg. It was busy, but I’m sure it can get a lot worse. The streets were crowded with tourists. There was a line around the block at a pancake house. We turned onto 321/73, The Great Smoky Byway. 45 minutes or so later, we came to a T in the road. We took a right to Waterville. Big mistake.

We were looking for a turn on Hollow Trail to get to I40. The road turned to gravel and wound through the mountains. It was not a good place to pull an Airstream with its tight turns and steep drop-offs. When we got to the turn, a big sign said, “Trucks and RV’s not allowed on this road. Your GPS is wrong!” 

A few miles up the road, there was another way, but it had the same sign. We slowly pressed on. On the truck’s GPS I could see I40 just a few miles away. I stopped to see if I could get the GPS to get us there. A car came behind us with two ladies in it. The driver asked, “Are you as lost as we are?” As Martha talked to the ladies, I was working on the GPS, noticing a motorcycle rider in a black suit turn onto a dirt road ahead of us. Not having much luck, I got out to see if the ladies had any ideas. They were from South Carolina, trying to get to 40 to get home.

The motorcycle rider in a black suit, riding a black bike came out of the woods, skidding to a halt next to me. I asked how we get to I40. He quickly lifted his helmet shield and said, “4 miles. When it turns to pavement, turn left”, and he sped off. OK, there is hope. 4 miles ahead we came to a crossroad. A sign pointed left to I40. Another pointed straight ahead to Cataloochee 16 miles. A voice inside said it couldn’t be worse than the road we had just driven. 

Some ladies were tending their horses and trailers in a field next to the road. I walked over, opening a gate and walking through the tall, wet grass. They glanced at each other nervously as I approached. One said, “Turn left and go to 40.” “Not straight?”, I asked. She almost smiled and said, “Go to 40.” 

We felt relieved as we got on I40 and into an incredibly different world of speeding traffic winding through the Smoky Mountains. We turned onto Cove Creek Road and finally saw a sign for Cataloochee Campground. It said, You need to have reservations. There is no cell service in the park.” The road in is rather famous for its hairpin turns on a one-lane gravel road. It couldn’t be worse than the roads we had spent the morning driving, and it was only 10 miles.

It is a tough road to drive with or without an Airstream, with blind hairpin turns. One car pulled way over so we could pass. He said, “Take care of that Airstream.” We went very slowly, passing maybe 10 cars, several going too fast. At a T in the road a sign pointed left to Cataloochee Campground. Straight ahead was Cosby 32 miles. We had been close to Cosby an hour ago.

Soon the road became paved. It even had a double yellow line in the middle! Finally, at 3:30 we turned into the campground. A sign said to stop and register. A lady sat at a table under a tarp smiling. I got out more to stretch my legs than anything. Ginger told us all about the campground with a smile on her face, happily saying there is a hand drier in the bathroom, telling Martha she could wash and dry her hair there.

“Are you going to fish?”, she asked me. “Yes”, I replied. She gave me a map with all the streams in the area, along with a brochure with fishing regulations. She showed us all the hiking trails, marking them on the map. She gave us a brochure with the local history. I asked if one could catch fish in these streams, and she replied, “If you’re good.”

We took her advice and went the wrong way around the pretty campground loop to get to site #1 (of 26 sites on Cataloochee Creek). It would have been impossible to get in from the other direction. We got settled and I walked across the dirt loop road to look at the stream. I don’t know how many beautiful trout streams are in this park, but this was another. The sun was shining and we were happy to finally be here. 

One of the big attractions here are the elk. 20 years ago 50 elk were brought from the west and released. We drove up the road to see what was here. Crossing a couple of narrow bridges, we came to a huge field on the right, maybe a mile long and 250 yards across. 30 elk were grazing their way down the valley – big, fat, happy elk. Maybe 10-12 cars were enjoying the view. On the left side of the road was a small, mountain stream, about the size of Rip Rap.

We parked at the end and walked up a trail past a very nice horse camp. I was sizing up the trout stream when it started to rain. As it came down harder, we turned around, heading for the truck. Martha asked for the keys and jogged down the trail. I can’t do that, but we hadn’t gone that far. 

Back at camp, the trouble began. I was sitting in the trailer, sipping a glass of wine, when I noticed the truck’s emergency flashers blinking. I went out, unlocked the truck, started it, pushed the emergency button on and off, got out and locked the truck. Soon it did it again, but this time with the horn honking. I did my thing again, wondering if there was something I had tripped to start this.

It wasn’t long before it started again. This time with the doors rapidly locking and unlocking. The damned thing was possessed! Not knowing what else to do, I disconnected the two batteries, which is not a simple task on this truck.

I kept wondering what on earth would cause such a thing.

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