Thursday, May 31, 2007

Trying to Get into Hot Water

Tomorrow is moving day. I have a reservation at the Lewis & Clark State Recreation Area for the weekend. I tried to make a reservation at another park in South Dakota for the following weekend but they were fully booked. I'll have to figure something out.

Tomorrow's route:

A good part of the route is through the Santee Indian Reservation. The "word on the street" is that fuel is under $3.00 on the reservation with the exemption from state and Federal taxes. If so, I'll fill both vehicles and the gas can.

I did a final tour of the area in the pickup and am further impressed with the town of Niobrara. It's clean, neat and has a full set of amenities. I crossed the Chief Standing Bear Memorial Bridge into South Dakota. Standing Bear's story, and that of the Ponca Indians, is interesting.

I run the water heater for 20 minutes each morning or when needed for a shower. This morning I heard it "flame out" after about five minutes. Uh-oh. Multiple relight attempts were unsuccessful and the shower was lukewarm at best.

I pulled the schematic:

Fairly simple. It was clear that the control module needed 12v power through the switch, the thermal cut-off and the temperature control thermostat. After checking that I wasn't out of propane, I went online to and learned that the thermal cut-off is a frequent offender. I removed it from the circuit and voila it worked!

I did some more research and found out that the possible offender is a common overheat protection device. I did a resistance check and it appeared good. It's a "one shot" device and is either good or bad.

I put it back in, put the volt meter on it and fired it up.

Hmm... it's working. Could have been corroded contacts. I'll find out in the morning.

I had only three requirements for a "permanent camping" life: hot coffee, hot showers and an internet connection. I hope this doesn't turn into a recurring problem. If it does I'll replace the current tank type with an "on demand" water heater but that will require a mail order and an unplanned expense.

I've pretty much "done Nebraska" with very favorable impressions. I guess that I can update my "states visited" map.

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Niobrara, Nebraska

Last night and most of the day was filled with intermittant rain showers. Since I had planned to leave tomorrow, I thought I should tour the park a little more.

It was raining steadily but this wild turkey let me get a lot closer than I would have expected.

I decided to head into town which was only two miles away. Since it had a listed population of 400 I didn't expect much in the way of commercial activity but was delighted to find a coin-operated laundry, grocery, two museums, and a library. I returned for my laundry and walked the town while it was in progress.

The main museum is open on the weekends only but I toured the small Ponca Indian museum. It was interesting and informative with a special tour by the curator. I gladly made a donation as it was well worth it. The guilt trip, if you want to take it, is free.

At the center of town there is a memorial to the three Sage brothers, killed in a 1969 collision between an Australian aircraft carrier and the USS Frank E. Evans.

This was the greatest single family loss since the five Sullivan brothers lost in the sinking of the USS Juneau in World War Two.

With laundry done, food purchased and a pleasant place to stay I decided to remain another day. I would like to visit the Lewis & Clark campsite and tour the town a little more.

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Across the Wide Missouri

I saw the Missouri today. I've seen it before, "from altitude", from Omaha and Kansas City but today I tried to envision it as a member of the Lewis and Clark Expedition might have. I had to work for it as it was much further away than I had guessed. I'll have to pick up my bicycle on my way south.

I kept thinking of the movie Across the Wide Missouri starring Clark Gable.

This movie may have had as much influence as Jeremiah Johnson on directing me toward my current life.

It was cloudy and rainy most of the day but around "quittin' time" it slackened so I grabbed the camera and went out. The most common bird during my hike was the "Yellow" or "Golden Finch".

With the cloud cover and heightened green colors they appeared almost luminescent.

There were quite a number and they were busy dining on the plentiful insects.

The Missouri itself and the surrounding landscape certainly appears somewhat different today. The river has been dammed and redirected and the vegetation is constantly refreshed, but as a "chopper" pilot once told me: "You can't change the face of the earth." To a certain extent he was right. The ridgelines and valleys are the same. After all, 200 years is the "blink of an eye" in geologic time.

The plant, bird and insect species should be the same although the large animals are for the most part gone.

Looking north. The expedition camped here on September 4th.

An enjoyable day.

Monday, May 28, 2007

The Missing Tale of the "Outlaw Trail"

Although tempted to stay another day because I would have the place to myself, I got an early start for Cub Creek Lake. I fueled up and bought groceries in Valentine but after an inventory decided that I could postpone the laundry. Lest anyone think that Valentine, Nebraska is a romantic name, history says otherwise:

Valentine is named after Edward K. Valentine, who as a congressman from Nebraska, was the chairman of the House Committee on Agriculture during his six years in office (1879-1885). He was instrumental in getting the settlers' grievances redressed by the federal government.[3]

A congressman! A decidedly lower life form. He was just another hog at the Federal trough. A fine town but nothing romantic.

I arrived at the lake at about noon.

A view of the park at Cub Creek Lake after I turned around. I had to go down the slope to the left and wanted to make sure that I had the "film" available to "capture the Kodak moment" if I put it over on its side. It worked out fine but I bent the entry step - again. Don't ask.

Cub Creek Lake is a very pleasant place and had it been 4PM I would have stopped for the night. But it was only noon and the winds were fierce so I had a sandwich and pressed on for Niobrara State Park.

The route was along Nebraska 12 which had a lot of signage indicating that it was a scenic byway and designated as the Outlaw Trail. I thought it was worth a Google but could only come up with a vague reference to Jesse James.

It was scenic though with the transitions from sand hills to prairie to pasture to cropland. The road was mostly good but with no shoulders for most of the way.

It wasn't dangerous to pull over like this. I could have napped on the double yellow line without concern. I've never seen a "road less traveled".

I did however, find the "Jail on the Outlaw Trail".

This is the real thing. The "JAIL" is inlaid into the stucco over brick construction and the bars and door are stout.

My only disappointment was the provision for heat.

Why waste the wood when you're going to hang 'em anyway?

Shortly thereafter I arrived at Niobrara State Park. I didn't recall the name but it is mentioned in journals and accounts of the Lewis and Clark Expedition.

On September 4th Lewis and Clark camped just above the mouth of the Niobrara River. Here for the first time they met the Ponca Indians, who had long made their home in this part of Nebraska. A little beyond, they saw great herds of buffalo and also elk, deer and villages of prairie dogs.

I am camped in that approximate location and will look for the historic sites tomorrow. Here is my view of the confluence of the Niobrara and Missouri rivers.

It's difficult to see in this picture but the Niobrara is in the foreground and you can see just a bit of the Missouri in the background. This is over my left shoulder as I sit at my desk. Much of the low area is swamp. (Not "wetlands", swamp. That's S-W-A-M-P. A perfectly good word.)

Sunday, May 27, 2007

AC-DC and Moving to Cub Lake

I have spent the last few days evaluating my electrical needs in preparation for sizing a solar system. I expect to build it incrementally but want to have the final size determined so I don't undersize any components.

In the last minute rush to get on the road I replaced the aged house batteries with two 12 volt deep cycle batteries from Sam's Club. I would have preferred four 6 volt batteries but the battery compartment would have required extensive modification.

I didn't have a working inverter ("inverts" DC to AC power) so I bought an inexpensive model at Wal-Mart.

It's a "modified" sine wave type large enough to run the notebook computer and satellite modem without working too hard. (200 watts). I didn't hold out for a "true" sine wave model because the power has to be rectified to DC anyway through the computer and modem's respective power supplies. I didn't see the need to feed steak to a sausage grinder.

A casual observer may ask: "Do you mean that you are taking DC battery power, inverting it to AC only to have it converted back to DC? Isn't that inefficient?" The answers are "yes" and "yes".

On my initial test, for simplicity, I connected the feed cables to the DC distribution panel. Battery drain was disappointing but within my expectations.

I knew I could increase the performance by connecting the feed directly to the batteries. As pictured above I fed the cables through the floor directly into the battery compartment. The performance increase was dramatic. I may be able to reduce my requirements for solar panels and additional batteries. However as they say, you can't have too much power.

It's been cool, overcast and windy today although the rain showers are gone. Several people are packing to leave.

I think I will leave in the morning also. I want to get to South Dakota and finish up my business there. Then I want to establish a work schedule where I remote camp Sunday afternoon through Friday afternoon and then go to a full hookup site for the weekend to drain, fill and resupply. That will require reservations, at least during the summer, but I want to be more productive at work. Traveling is fun but it doesn't make money.

Since I now have an annual Nebraska state parks pass I'll exercise it by stopping at either the Niobrara SP, the Lewis & Clark SP or possibly both. I've read books about the Lewis and Clark expedition and have an ongoing interest in it. I can't pass up an opportunity to visit any historic sites that relate to it.

There is a spot to "primitive camp" at Cub Creek Lake about 80 miles to the east on Nebraska Route 12. It's at the bend in the road between Norden and Springview.

I'll stay one night and try for Niobrara the next. I won't get very far tomorrow but I plan a long stop in Valentine to do laundry and buy groceries.

Saturday, May 26, 2007

Peace and Quiet Returns

The backward ball caps were an accurate indicator. Although a thunderstorm with hail kept them tent-bound for a while, at 0130 they decided it was time to "raise hell". Some of the other campers didn't want to get involved but the next morning as soon as I found a stalwart lad to "watch my back" I had a "sit-down", as the Soprano's might say, with the transgressors. After a spirited discussion we all agreed that it was in the interest of every one's health and well being that they find another location for their frivolities. They left early and peace and quiet has returned to our impromptu community.

I spent much of the day rearranging the outside storage bins but have much more to do.

I took a short drive to view the "McElvie National Forest". I use quotes because I think the trees are on "back order".

The same location did give a nice view of the reservoir.

My location is on the opposite shore.

My plan is: Well, I have no plan now. There are plenty of open campsites but I am "primitive camping" so I have to be cognizant of electricity use. I'll evaluate it on Monday morning. If everyone leaves, I'll probably stay another day. I can run the "genny" when needed and set a personal best for internal water and tank usage. I have plenty of food.

If it seems a good time to move, I'll strike out on Nebraska Route 12. By the way, my decision to not take the "road with no name" turned out to be a good one. I stopped where it intersected the state road. I doubt if I would have made it. The cattle guards and lack of pavement were a tip-off. State Route 97 was remote enough for me.

Friday, May 25, 2007

For Better or for Worse...

I have a pleasant site in a pine grove. A whitetail doe and her fawn came out of the trees early this morning but went back in before I could get a picture.
You can see what is meant by "sandhills" across the inlet. The reservoir itself is huge.

The view from my office. You may be able to see the inlet at the end of the road.
Peace and quiet reigned until the "neighbors" arrived. I was hoping for another family but six post-adolescent(?) males in shorts with their ball caps on backward pulled up and started a grill. It looked as though they were 'phoning directions to others. Unfortunately I can see a sleeping bag. Oh well, it is a holiday weekend. If the rangers shut them down at 10 PM that's fine.

Thursday, May 24, 2007

The Sandhills of Nebraska

Remote and desolate but attractive. I'm camped in a pine grove near the water. It's what the park services call "primitive" camping aka "dry camping" or "boondocking". Nothing is provided except a place to park. But the satellite is locked on and I have Internet as long as the batteries hold out.

Here's a geography quiz, boys and girls:

Can you find my location on a United States map? Hint: "Won't you be my Valentine?"

(Sorry, girls only.)

Sunday, May 20, 2007

Holiday Hangout

A recurring question for "full-time travelers" is:" "Where do you spend the holidays?" The most difficult are Memorial Day, the Fourth of July, and Labor Day. In addition to the summer vacation crowd, many folks naturally want to take advantage of the long weekends. I, of course, don't want to displace a vacationing family but I still need a place to stay.

My plan is to seek out the most remote area I can find that is on my route to South Dakota. I settled on the Merritt Reservoir which has a large number of "primitive" campsites and few amenities. It appears that it will attract primarily "boat people" and fishermen. (Fishermen are also known as people who drink beer while they pretend to fish.) It has water but little else. I will try to select a campsite that is far away form others so I can run the generator to keep the batteries charged. I will get online a few hours each day but will try to focus on organization and vehicle maintenance.

There it is. It's as far out as I can find and has other parks and national forests as "backups". I think that if I arrive Thursday afternoon I should be able to pick a remote spot for the weekend. We'll see.

I would prefer to drive from Brownlee on US-83 to intercept SR-97 instead of going to Valentine and backtracking. Some maps show a road and some don't. None show a number. I'll have to take it slowly so I don't wind up in front of a load zoned bridge without the ability to backup or turn around.

I could really use a GPS.

Stapleton, Nebraska

The tire shop finished replacing the rear duals much quicker than I expected so I was on the road with good tires by 1030.

It's my habit to pull over after a few miles of towing and check the hitch setup. A spot check saved the day this week when I saw one of the hitch pins working its way out. Most likely I forgot the safety pin since it was missing. A small nut and bolt did the trick but it was a close call.

Today I also wanted to check the tire installation and when I pulled over a Sheriff's cruiser immediately stopped behind me. I could hear him call in my tag. I explained what I was doing and volunteered that it probably wasn't the best place to do it but the highway ahead was likely to have less shoulder than where I stopped. I did my checks quickly and thanked him for stopping. For some reason he followed me for over twenty miles. Whether that was his patrol route or he was looking for a reason to "light me up", I don't know. Perhaps it took a while for my out of state tag to come back clean. It must have been boring for him since I drive between 45 and 55.

As planned I rolled into Stapleton, Nebraska, "Home of Nebraska's Biggest Little Rodeo!"

It's a very pleasant town of about 300.

Although not noticeable here the grocery has a very interesting cornice design.

The church, St. John's Catholic, is in beautiful condition.

This John Deere Model A two cylinder tractor is a good candidate for full restoration. There is only one small modification that I could detect.

Camped in the town park with 30 amp electric. This is an advantage of the tripod dish. A roof mounted dish couldn't get a signal while parked under the trees. I had quite a time moving the dish around to get a "peek" through the trees. But once online, I can let the dish "catch some rays" while I enjoy the shade.

While the dish has a very high "geekazoid factor", I think most people assume that I just have an out of control TV habit as I have gotten a few looks but few questions.

It is so pleasant here that I am tempted to remain through the Memorial Day weekend rather than fight for a spot at the state park. But I don't want to wear out my welcome. I'll leave a donation and "thank you" note and be on my way.

On the Move Again

Despite the heavy train traffic, with horns, just feet from my head I napped frequently and felt refreshed when I got up at 0430. I went to the tire shop when they opened at 0700 and by 0830 I was ready to roll. The tires weren't the best quality but had all the DOT ratings and were reasonably "fresh". (If you don't know how to read the date codes on your tires it's easy.)

With just thirty thousand miles you would think that my tires have many miles left but most RV tires die of old age and not mileage. Tires over six years old are suspect regardless of the tread remaining, particularly if the vehicle has been stored outside and the tires exposed to sunlight. I thought I could nurse mine along for a while until I got the "ultimate" valve stems but I was wrong.

Age, heat and highway speeds shredded a tire which looked almost new. I had two new ones put on the front and the old fronts put on the dual where the tire had failed. Since I used the remaining dual to limp into Big Springs it was seriously overstressed and could be expected to fail. I appreciate what it did but scrapped it.

Just north of Big Springs I joined US-30 which is part of the famous Lincoln Highway:

A short history:

I am enjoying travel on the US highways and staying off the Interstate.

Although I wanted to visit the state park at Ogallala, I decided to put on some more miles and wound up at a state park north of North Platte.

This park is close to town and while on a Wal-Mart run I saw a tire shop and got an estimate. I decided that it was silly running around on "maypops" waiting for the perfect valve stem. I will have the remaining old tires replaced on Wednesday morning on my way out of town. That will make one less thing to be concerned about.

It's very windy with a forecast of thunderstorms and hail. The satellite dish is holding the signal so far...

A Walking Tour of Big Springs, NE

The library is housed in the old bank building.

An 1886 hotel that's on the Historic Register and active as a B&B.

A plaque relating the Union Pacific train robbery in 1877.

A sod house occupied until 1989!

The Pony Express passed nearby.

Am I blending in?

The dish discreetly on duty with a train speeding by in the background. Not much sleep tonight...

Gonna' Be a Big Time in Big Springs Tonight!

Everything was going well and according to plan when the left inboard dual tire failed. There was no other damage apparent so I limped into Big Springs, Nebraska.

I'm set up in the gravel lot in the center of town between the Union Pacific tracks and the Farmer's Cooperative Association service station where I plan to have the tire replaced tomorrow. The townspeople I spoke with didn't think there would be a problem staying here so unless the town's policeman chases me off I'm here for the night.

I've never seen trains pass so frequently. I'm going to stroll around town and see what's of interest.

More later...

Friday, May 18, 2007

Fort Morgan, Part 2

I woke today at 0300 and although it's "moving day" I don't want to make noise outside until at least 0600. The coyotes don't seem to adhere to that rule. I'll take this opportunity to post some pictures from the "missing" files.

The Fort Morgan city park was excellent. The noisiest users were the "geese police". This was the view from my desk. They had 20 amp electricity at a very reasonable price.

This open spandrel reinforced concrete arch bridge across the South Platte caught my eye. Constructed in the 1920s it's in beautiful condition but it is now only a foot bridge, probably because it is too narrow for current highway standards.

The bridge deck looks as though it was finished yesterday.
Doing a thorough inspection I discovered the now unused but solid timber supports for the previous bridge.

I walked to the site of the original fort. It is now another small city park with tennis courts.

An informational sign on an overlook of the South Platte noting the river's significance in the westward migration.

Urban camping at its best. It's clean, quiet, you feel welcome and you can walk into town. It was a very pleasant two day stop.

My View of the World

I had some posts on Fort Morgan and Brush disappear. I'll save catching up for a rainy day. Here's my current view of the world:

Yes, a little "plain" but not bleak. There has been plenty of rain so the grass is green, the wildflowers are in bloom and the reservoir is full. When I took a walk this morning the fish were leaping completely out of the water. The temperatures are moderate with warm days and cool nights. The stars last night were spectacular. I would stay another day but have a need to move on and find a spot for the holiday weekend.

I want to cover three hundred miles by Thursday. Since March 28th I have only driven the MH 600 miles total, averaging 11.5 miles per day. This is going to be a change of pace but I also want to get my business done in South Dakota. I've decided that it's more efficient to drive more miles every other day than to drive fewer miles each day. Given the time to break down and set up camp the "setup time" per day is reduced and I have to spend less time finding a place to stay. This way I will also be able to get more work done on the day I spend in place.

My travel plan for tomorrow:

This leg is just over 100 miles from Sterling Reservoir to Lake Ogallala, Nebraska. This will be the first time out of Colorado on this trip. I am avoiding the Interstate for several reasons. My trip computer shows my best efficiency is at 50 to 55 miles per hour and you are "road kill" at that speed on the Interstate. I'll gladly trade a little time for fuel. I also enjoy seeing the countryside at a slower pace and imagining what highway travel was like before the coming of the Interstate System. I look for old gas stations and drive-ins bypassed forever. I did this on the leg from Brush and it worked out well since there was so little traffic.

Monday, May 14, 2007

Fort Morgan, Colorado

This is a reconstruction of a post written on Saturday. Just before publishing my computer shutdown on its own and the post was lost.

On Saturday I drove into Fort Morgan for groceries and to do a little sightseeing.

Main Street, Fort Morgan, Colorado

Angled parking and no meters. I liked it right away. I did note from old photographs that they had meters during the 60s and 70s. With a population of 10,000 it is clean, pleasant and prosperous.

The park at the town center has a small locomotive previously operated by the Western Sugar Beet Company. The company had quite a fleet of small and full size steam engines.

The north end of the park has the combined library and museum.

The museum and library are both excellent. My only complaint is that the expansion and renovation covered the exterior of a beautiful Carnegie library that was dedicated in 1919. You can see the outline of the old building on the left.

The history of the area is too extensive to recount here but includes the "prehistoric" period, early stone age settlement, the plains Indians period, construction of the fort to provide security for the Overland Trail, the coming of the railroads, large scale cattle ranching and large scale agriculture. There was an influx of ethnic Germans expelled from Russia at the end of the nineteenth century and Fort Morgan was home to a training base for glider pilots during World War Two. I am often amazed at the historical variety of smaller towns.

And last, but not least, Fort Morgan is the hometown of Glenn Miller.

When I returned to the state park a "pop up" camper in a nearby spot had collapsed. They needed tools, parts and ideas. It took a few hours but we made it safe and usable. In return they kindly invited me down for steak and beer. During dinner a helicopter came into the park to evacuate a camper who, we later learned, was bitten by a rattlesnake.

Sunday I got the wireless network up so both computers have an Internet connection. I still have a few connection problems for inter-computer file transfer.

By Sunday evening I was the only resident of the campground. It was a little eerie with the wind, lightning and a pack of coyotes running and howling through the campground. I imagine that it was the same pack that woke me at 0500 when they called it a night.

I learned through the Internet that Fort Morgan has another park that allows camping. I am there as I write this. Pictures tomorrow.