Sunday, June 26, 2011

Our First Week in Colorado

Time With Family 
Greely and Estes Park, Colorado

Since we escaped the wicked weather of Nebraska we have been in Greeley, CO. Our first couple of days here were just some “down time” for us. Get caught up on some chores and not do much but sit around the RV and be thankful for amazingly nice weather.

On Friday morning, Shelley's brother Tom rode up from his home in Broomfield, CO on his Triumph Tiger motorcycle. We had a short but very nice visit. After lunch Tom had to get home to get ready to fly to Florida on Saturday. He is a busy busy man with many irons in the fire. Please check out his latest venture “Be A Samaratin.” This is so very worthwhile and can save literally thousands of lives. In a nutshell, their goal is to prevent Sudden Cardiac Death by having portable defibrillators in as many public places as possible and for people to actually be able to locate these devices and use them in time to save someone's life.

On Friday evening, the reason for our visit to Greeley arrived. Shelley's cousin Art, wife Honey and daughters Ciara and Savanna arrived with their motorhome at the RV park. They live in Canon City, CO but travel just about every weekend from March to August as Ciara is on a tournament fastpitch softball team.

 We have been wanting to see her and her teammates on the Colorado Springs Thunder play for some time and this year the timing was perfect for us to catch one of her tournaments. The team plays in the 14U bracket – meaning no player may be over 14 years of age.

I won't go in to lots of detail – let's just suffice it to say that for a team that was nationally ranked this was not a bright shining moment. But, we had a great time and are very glad we came.

Art, Honey and the girls are also in to geocaching and I will be writing more about that when we get to Oklahoma City in a few weeks. If you don't know what geocaching is – you have some time to Google it so when I tell you this great story you will know what I'm talking about. Or just check this link Geocaching This is going to be an important story I hope - so remember it!  Our hope is to be able to tie in Greeley, CO, Oklahoma City and the Czech Republic.

Since the team took an early out from the tournament on Sunday we had some time to fill and headed over to Estes Park for lunch. We have camped in the Estes Park area a few times and love the area.

We just happened to catch the Scandinavian Midsummer Festival.

We were also able to locate the webcam on Elkhorn Ave, the main drag of Estes Park and using our iPhones take pictures of ourselves while the webcam was taking out picture (did that make any sense?)

 That brings our time in Greeley to an end.  More Colorado yet to come!  So stay tuned.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Bailey Yard – Largest Rail Yard In The World

North Platte, Nebraska
Eighty very windy, gusty, blustery, blow the RV around the road, miles west of Elm Creek, (site of the tornado), is North Platte Nebraska – home to the Union Pacific's Bailey Yard. So – no we did not have enough sense to just get on out of Nebraska. We just had to visit the Golden Spike Tower from which we could view the Bailey Yard.

The Bailey Yard covers 2,850 acres, is over 8 miles in length and 2 miles wide. The yard has 315 miles of track and every day handles, are you ready for this, 12,000 – 15,000 rail cars. The yard includes a locomotive fueling and servicing center that handles more than 8,500 locomotives per month and pumps 14 million gallons of fuel each month, a locomotive repair shop that can repair 750 locomotives monthly and a car repair facility that handles around 50 cars daily.

The yard has two humps which handle about 4,000 cars daily. These humps are amazing. Both are mounds of dirt about 25 feet high and as rail cars move on to the hump they are uncoupled and they roll down either the east or west bound hump and a computer routes them on to one of 114 “bowl tracks” to be united with trains going to one of dozens of destinations. This is a controlled free-fall kind of operation and fascinating to watch these rail cars moving, for appearances sake, all on their own.

There are 18 receiving and 16 departure tracks. It boggles the mind trying to figure out how anything ever gets where it is supposed to go.

The town of North Platte is bounded on the north by the North Platte River and on the south by – you guessed it – the South Platte River. Currently the North Platte is in flood stage. We were supposed to camp at the Buffalo Bill Ranch but it was closed due to flooding (at least they had an excuse which is more than we can say for the Buffalo Bill Museum back in Le Clair, Iowa. I've sworn off Bill Cody for the rest of this trip). While we were gawking at the river I spoke with an elderly gentleman who has lived here all his life and was taking pictures of the river. He said that he has seen the South Platte flood many times but never before the North Platte.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

The (Terrifying) World of Nebraska Weather

Elm Creek, Nebraska June 20, 2011
Early morning June 20, about 1:30 we were awakened by a super strong storm moving through the area. We turned on the weather radio and did not hear any tornado warnings nor were the tornado sirens sounding so we just watched the storm from the RV. It is amazing what you can see when it is pitch black outside but being on the prairie with massive amounts of lightning and no trees or buildings to block the view we could see the sheets of rain and the trees bending over – and the motorhome was bouncing around pretty violently in the gusts of wind - you get the picture. There was minimal hail which was a big concern but we made it through safe and sound.

During the early part of the day on the 20th we went to the Great Platte River Road Archway Museum – (see previous post.) The weather was what I think of as typical weather for the plains – cloudy and winds of 20-30 miles an hour with higher gusts but it was not storming. At lunch time we were in Kearney and when we saw two vehicles that look like this we should have taken the hint.

Late in the afternoon we were back at the RV in Sunny Meadows Campground. The weather was deteriorating rapidly and we were glued to the TV watching weather reports when I said to Monte “is that a siren I hear?” Right then a tractor-trailer stopped across the highway from us and we figured he was not stopping for the heck of it so I jumped up, looked out the windshield did not see anything so opened the door and stepped out and just about pooped my pants when I saw a tornado forming and heading for the ground – now we could hear the sirens. We shoved our feet in to some shoes, grabbed our cameras (go figure), put leashes on the dogs and hauled ass for the storm shelter. By the time we got outside – maybe 20 seconds from when I first saw the tornado, it had disappeared but there was another one and we could not tell which way it was going. We must have been quite the sight – trying to run to the shelter, control the dogs, and take pictures.

After we got to the shelter we could tell that it was moving away from us and I took some video of it. Look closely at the ground and you can clearly see a debris cloud.

As it turned out there were 23 confirmed tornadoes in the area with that front.

I'll take a good old Florida hurricane any day...

The Great Platte River Road Archway

Kearney, Nebraska
On our past travels on I-80 passing by Kearney Nebraska we had seen this large building spanning the Interstate but did not know what it was. This time, before we got here we researched the structure and found that it is a museum and so decided to set up camp close by and pay it a visit.

What a jewel we found. We are constantly amazed at the quality of small museums throughout the U.S. The owners of this one have done a bang-up job. Upon entry we were greeted by a “mountain man” who directed us to the ticket office and told us a little of what to expect.

After receiving our head sets, as this is a self guided audio tour, we were on our way up the longest escalator in the state of Nebraska.

Once upstairs we wandered through 150 years of history. Most of the museum is dedicated to the years 1843 to 1869 when nearly half a million pioneers rode and walked the trails to the West Coast.

The story is told through the audio tour, dioramas, and mini-movies. The museum pays tribute to the pioneers, trappers, traders, Native Americans, pony express riders, the telegraph, the coming of trains, then Highway 30 the Lincoln Highway, America's first transcontinental road and I-80 the nations first interstate.

It appears that this museum is not very well attended as there is no close exit from the Interstate. It is not readily apparent how to get to the building (why we have never stopped before) so I think that many people who might stop just keep on traveling the Great River Road and pass it by. If you are ever in this area we highly recommend stopping here.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Iowa Has Much To Offer (If you don't ask for much)

A Day in the Greater Des Moines Area
We hit the trifecta by coming to Des Moines, IA. We had one full day to tour the Greater Des Moines area and we took full advantage of it.

Our first stop was in the town of Indianola to visit the National Balloon Museum. When I told Monte that we were going to a balloon museum he had visions of clowns and balloon animals. He did not hide his disappointment well when I informed him that it was about the history of man riding in big balloons. The museum chronicles more than 200 years of ballooning history from the first flight in 1783 to the present. The museum contains balloon envelopes, gondolas, inflator fans, ballooning instruments, trophies, and other memorabilia. We were met by a 80+ year old docent who I immediately wanted to tell to “straighten up and fly right” since her name tag was upside down – but I refrained. She had a power point presentation on the history of ballooning and would we like to see it? Sure! 15 minutes later when she and another octogenarian figured out how to start the program we did watch it – however the sound was about 3 slides behind where it should have been. The highlight of the museum was meeting the only other tourist there. She was in town for a wedding and it turned out that she is from Exton, PA about 10 miles from where Monte's family lives. We had a nice chat with her and by the time we finished talking she was ready to go with us rather than the wedding – but she did not get an invite from us.

On west a few miles – to Winterset, Iowa. The birthplace of none other than the Marion Robert Morrison, whose name was changed to Marion Mitchell Morrison and who you know as “The Duke” John Wayne. We got there but skipped going in when we found out that it was $6 each for a 20 minute guided tour of a one room house. Heck – the Balloon Museum was on $3, had multiple rooms and had a power point presentation. So, we drove by, took some pictures and found the North Side Cafe where we had a great lunch.

On the way to Winterset and on the way out of town, the real tourist attractions exist. Winterset is in Madison County, Iowa. Ring a bell? It should. This is where Meryl Streep and Clint Eastwood had their 4 day love affair in the movie “The Bridges of Madison County”. I don't watch too many movies but this was a very good one. Several of the bridges still exist and we visited 4 of them. All of the bridges are listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Back in the day bridges were covered by order of the County Board of Supervisors to help preserve the large flooring timbers which were more expensive to replace than the lumber covering the sides and roof. Most of the construction was done by farmers to pay their poll taxes.

To finish off the day we attended the thoroughbred races at Prairie Meadows Race Track and Casino. We did not win but neither did we lose.

One final note on Iowa – we have seen more windmills than in any other state. We have seen lots of wind farms in many states but just about the entire state of Iowa seems to be covered with windmills. Clean and Green!

End of Iowa – on to Nebraska.

Friday, June 17, 2011

Winnebago Industries – Where Everything That Was Wrong Was Set Right

Forest City, Iowa
Our trip north from the Quad Cities took us to Forest City, Iowa where we had an appointment at Winnebago Industries to have a few small warranty issues addressed on the motorhome. Our list of issues were things that were more irritating than major: the shower leaked, the radio would not hold its settings when the engine was turned off, one of the wires from the satellite hookup to the tv was broken – stuff like that. Little did we know – we had a couple of major issues.

The appointment was for 2 days and we had to be up and ready to check in at 7 AM on the first day so we arrived the day before (Winnebago provides free camping for rigs that are in for service.) That night we had a very bad but typical “out on the prairie” rain storm. The bad part was the wind – I have no idea how hard the wind blew but it was hard. Hard enough that when we got up in the morning we discovered that there was a leak from the big slide-out in to the living room area and one of the cabinets had water in it and it was just generally a mess. So – add that to our list of fixes as a major problem to be addressed on day one.

First thing on day one we were assigned our very own personal technician, Don, who would work on our RV and keep us informed of progress. We were hoping that our 2 day appointment would actually be only one day but pretty much the only issue that was fixed on day one was the slide-out leak – that was a major time consumer. The other time consumer was trying to figure out the shower leak – that turned out to be a pretty major issue also. Day One came to a close and we knew that we would be here for day two.

Day Two dawned and once again – 7 AM check in time. We had the day to kill so we did some exciting stuff like taking a tour of the Winnebago factory. The tour was pretty good other than the fact that we were not allowed to take pictures. However, Monte used his phone and snuck a couple of pics (he is such a criminal).

  After the tour we still had time to kill so we drove around the area and much to our delight found the Norwegian Immigrant Memorial – how very exciting!

Finally – 3 PM and time to go see Don – our tech. Don is late – doesn't bring the RV out until almost 3:30 so we figure they were trying to get everything done and get us out of here. Wrong! They did get everything on the list completed but when they were wrapping up for the day and turned off the air conditioner the condensate ran from the roof down the passenger side window like it always does – except this time it also ran inside the window – one of the window seals is broken. Don informs us that they have to order a new window and it will be delivered the next day. Once again – we feel lucky – this is a major issue and we feel that other manufacturers/repair facilities would have just ignored it or caulked it and never mentioned it.

Here we sit on Day Three – but all is good – we even got to sleep in as we did not have to report until 8 AM. We are very glad that we made this appointment and that the repair folks at Winnebago have been so good about taking care of our problems. The waiting room has good coffee and most importantly Wifi and we are sure we will be out of here this afternoon.

We have also been lucky while here that it has been cloudy and cool because the dogs are spending their days in the car parked under a shade tree. We take them a couple of times a day to the Winnebago Rally Grounds which is a massive but empty campground and let them just be doggies and run free.

To wrap up - nogood luck at the casinos lately but lots of good luck at Winnebago and we'll take that any day.