Monday, September 7, 2009

The mighty plains

Driving westward from Shorewood, IL there is not a lot going on. Sure, I-80 is packed with trucks and it is generally no fun to drive as a result. But the scenery leaves much to be desired. We crossed the Mississippi again and then cut north to Winnebago county, the home of Winnebago Industries. The makers of our fair Landshark.

Winnebago Industries was started 50+ years ago in an otherwise unremarkable town in Iowa. Seemingly the goal of the company was to employ people from Winnebago. Well, they have done so. And in the process made the RV industry. The factory tour started out very slow with a bus tour of the factory buildings outside. Imagine driving in a bus around a truck stop with identical trucks and with a few warehouse exteriors thrown in. After 10 minutes the kids were out of their minds and Martha was giving me a look to say "we drove 300 miles out of our way for THIS!?!" Fortunately, the bus stopped, we put on safety glasses and we went in to watch a chassis being welded together. It was loud. There were copious amounts of sparks flying around. And it smelled like ozone. Whew. Dodged that bullet. There were three more trips off of the bus to watch the rest of the RV building process. And in the end we got to go into a couple of models whose MSRP was 15x what we paid for Landshark.

Continuing onwards, we headed north to Minnesota for about 10 miles before heading west in a long cut across South Dakota. I didn't expect much out of South Dakota and that was probably a good thing. As the day got later and later (though we did have an hour time change working for us) we watched approaching thunderstorms. Being originally from "tornado alley" in Illinois, we stopped on the edge of what we thought was safe. We filled gas (10+ minutes) and picked up some milk. In that time, the wind shifted 180 degrees and kicked up over 40 knots and dust was flying everywhere including my eyes. We were parked 10 minutes later and the wind had completely died. The sun was out way to the west of us and we could pick up a double rainbow in the now passed storm. Amazing.

Cedar Point until Winnebago County ... no photos

I don't know if I'm lame, Martha is lame or we were just thrown off our game. But however you put it, the 1 week between our trip to Cedar Point and Winnebago county was not immortalized on camera. We scored another national park for the Monopoly game (Indiana Sand Dunes National Park, only 4 miles off the road which pointedly avoided the tollways) bringing us closer to finishing the board. Admittedly, we only ranked the park as "Mediterranean Ave," but something had to be.

After that roadside attraction, we stayed for several days with my family in Shorewood, IL. The boys scored a 2 day sleepover in Evanston, IL with the aunts, and Sarah felt so left out, we dropped her off for 1 of those nights! Amazingly, Mom and Dad got to see a big screen movie for the first time in years. And somehow, Dad got to pick it. We saw Star Trek. Excellent choice! Not much of a date movie, but any movie is a date movie these days. And special kudos to the second run theater in which it played. Not only were there several 3+ star movies playing, each ticket was only $1.50. On Friday/Saturday nights the ticket price bumps to $2. Wow. Finally a movie house that fits our budget.

Sunday dinner was another real treat. We had graduation roast beef for dinner. If you are not acquainted with that meal, but you live close enough to join us for Super Bowl Sunday, you will be. It's what our family served for every first communion, confirmation, graduation and perhaps even some of the wedding receptions. With 5 kids in the family, it was an almost annual meal. After long wait, my mom has shared the recipe. I made it two days ago and it is outstanding.

The other highlight of our trip home was a chance to visit all of my friends from high school. Mike & Kim were also in town, so it was the first time most have been together since they got married a year+ ago. Well before the economy went to liverwurst. It was great to see everyone.

On Monday morning, it was time to head to Iowa and continue our ride westward...

Fallen off a cliff?

Clearly any of the regular readers of this blog are wondering if I have fallen off a cliff. That is not the case. After we got to Chicago, life just became too busy and has remained so for the rest of our trip. I have an hour or so this afternoon and will try to edit & upload some photos as well as try to get as much as I can get down before my memory becomes too fogged. In any case, we are alive & well with LandShark parked in the driveway.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Cedar Point -- It's worth the trip

After several amusement parks which I've already covered, we arrived at the mecca of the roller coaster world--Cedar Point. 17 coasters. Despite having gone to 6 other parks before this, there were some completely new roller coasters. The ones that stood out as truly special are Millenium Force, Magnum XL200 and Maverick.

Millenium Force was aptly named. We leveraged the "stay in our park, enter 1 hour early" card and only had to stand in line for 20 minutes. That was 20 minutes well spent. 310 feet tall, speeds over 90 miles/hour. When I got off the ride, my arms from the elbows forward were completely numb. I can't decide if it was just the velocity of the ride, or the grip with which I held on to the lap bar (no shoulder harness!). It was a real force of nature.

Magnum XL200 was a new coaster 20 years ago. Today, it was still great. While waiting for the ride, they played 80's music which was a total hoot. It was 200 ft tall and still far more extreme than anything at SCGA, and apart from Accelerator at KBF, more extreme than that. What I most loved is that it would set up an expectation of motion, throw you in a tunnel and then jig that expectation. It was full of surprises. Excellent ride, probably my favorite until...

Maverick. Wow. I have been on nothing like it. I waited in line 45 minutes, it broke down, we bailed. 6 hours later I waited in line another 50 minutes. Totally worth it. I can't describe the number of new motions that I went through. I had no hope of getting my hands in the air. It was absolutely brilliant. It was voted the best roller coaster of 2007 in an amusement park trade magazine. I understand why.

About the park. It is huge. And it is the first non-Disney park which felt like it could compete with Disney for customer service, albeit for an older crowd. Every single ride was run by operators who were psyched to be there. They would describe the ride in detail, rile up the crowd and get you pumped. We went on a sky ride where the line was probably 50 yards long and 3 ft wide. A similar line at SCGA would take 45 minutes. We know, we've waited. We were on in 8 minutes. Even the "jungle boat ride" was run by operators telling the inevitable lame jokes but with spirit and a sense of timing. Clearly, working here is a priviledge, not an obligation.

For the non-coaster goers, the park was very good. There were too many non-coaster rides for me to count, and most rides could be boarded immediately or after one round. There were 4 kiddie areas which meant that the parent on duty was not thoroughly bored after 1 hour. There also was a water park which James said was the best yet, though Martha is baffled how/why he could say that. Half of the park had a great big beach where one could hang out on Lake Erie.

As Martha put it, we're coming back when Sarah is bigger. The other two places about which she has said that are Disneyland and the Grand Hotel in Mackinac Island. It is an rarefied list which Cedar Point richly deserves inclusion.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Tim Hortons v. Dunkin Donuts

"When are we going to have the doughuts" is the refrain I hear from the kids every time they look at the blog. "I thought we were going to have doughnuts on this trip?"

It was time for the taste test.

En route from Canada to Cedar Point, we picked up a dozen Tim Hortons doughnuts in Brantford (where they are made daily before being shipped around Canada) and then a corresponding half-dozen from Dunkin Donuts somewhere south of Detroit. To be fair in the freshness department, we waited 2 hours after leaving the DD before the official taste test. However, we must admit to quelling a serious rebellion by sampling several of the non-matching Tim Hortons in the DD parking lot. We were not arrested.

To illustrate the power of doughnuts in the world, we were in the Cedar Point RV Park with the sound of happily screaming kids plummetting 200+ ft at 80+ MPH and there was no interest in getting to the park. Our judges had one thing on their mind. Doughnutty goodness.

The methodology was simple. Matching doughnut types were cut into 5 pieces and put on two different plates, Martha did the cutting and placing and the rest of us had no idea which plate came from which vendor. Each person would sample a type from each and then vote which plate was their favorite.

The judging was very close, but even Martha voted for the Dunkin Donuts over the Tim Hortons slightly more. To give you an idea of how close the voting was, of the 3 types of a potential of 15 votes, 7 of the votes were "I'm not sure."

Even so, our local Los Gatos donut vendor was agreed by all to be the better doughnut. Neither Dunkin Donuts nor Tim Hortons make their doughnut on site any more, and clearly the quality has suffered.

A very different farm

While in Brantford, we were lucky to visit with some of Martha's extended relatives who also own a farm. This farm has been running for at least 10 years by a family that has been in farming (and politics--he is the Mayor of Brant County) for much longer. One of the suprising items at the farm was a 1947 Packard which Ron Eddy recently acquired. It needs alot of love, but I'm sure that a vehicle of this nature will get it. Sarah and I got a quick ride down the gravel road at about 60 MPH, and we felt nary a bump. They don't make cars like that anymore. Or perhaps I haven't been lucky enough to ride in one?

The original draw for us was the newly born colts who were only 2 days old. I don't think I have ever been so close to such young horses. It was cute watching how untested their gait was around the pasture. This farm was 160 acres with a beautiful farmhouse that was 120 years old. This farm was certainly easier to maintain with only cattle and horses in the livestock department, minimal vegetables (just for the family) and corn, hay and soybean for crops.

Wave pools actually can be realistic

One of the things that has always bugged me about wave pools is out unrealistic they are. I've been to the ocean many times, but I've never seen nonstop waves like the the average wave pool. I've been to the Indiana Dunes many times, and the waves occasionally rise a half inch.

I was wrong.

Evidently Port Dover, Ontario has waves just like they make in the wave pools. True, we had a 30 knot wind coming directly over the narrow part of Lake Erie which shoals rapidly and then has a long run into shore. Even so, I was amazed to see 1-2 ft waves pounding the shore ever second or two. Fortunately I have a picture. Or more accurately, Martha took a picture, and I am sharing it.

Apart from that observation, we had a great time at Port Dover. There is something about sand, waves and kids that just gets everyone going. And that night, everyone slept well. Victory.

Small Cameras

Looking back on the last blog postings I realize that I have been really quite lame about taking pictures. The bad news is that I'm currently in Joliet on Aug 12 and my last post was on Aug 7, so there are plenty of pictures that I have missed taking and likely will continue to miss.

Fortunately, Martha has been taking pictures all along and while she was sleeping this morning, I scanned them all in. I think the biggest factor in the photo deficiency is that her camera clocks in at 1 lb and is a hand me down (w/ excellent optics) whereas mine is just shy of 3 lbs and I spent too much money on it. Therefore, I keep my camera in its padded bag, hidden in a back closet of Landshark. Martha keeps it in a ziplock bag (we did learn from the phone incident!) wherever the puts it down. Ergo, she has many more pictures than I do.

The only drawback to her camera that I see is the delay in taking a shot, usually there's a 1 second pause to focus & calculate. And as you see, Paul (aka "Dash") has learned to take full advantage of a 1 second pause. If I remember it right, he was sitting at the table when she picked up the camera. He got up, ran behind me, behind Martha and still made it into the frame well after the focus had decided what was important.

Friday, August 7, 2009

Break in Brantford continues

Our break from being on the road continues in Brantford, ON with a visit to Martha's mother. The bountiful access to TV and internet is a crowd pleaser as is Mrs. S's wonderful cooking. We have not eaten so well in some time. Yesterday's activities included a visit to a friend in Hamilton (where the Phoenix Coyotes will go if the RIM head has his way) and the Ontario Science Center.

The house in Hamilton was great fun having been built in the early 1900's and with all sorts of interesting renovation ideas over the years. Ruth and Russ are working towards returning the house to its updated glory. I found it very interesting trying to figure out what walls were where originally, and what the flow was like. Forensic architecture. Not unlike inheriting a long misunderstood code base. Fun.

The Ontario Science Center was our best visit yet. Previously the place has always been great, but the crowds plentiful. Yesterday, we arrived at nearly 4p to more people leaving the museum than arriving. I can only assume that most did not know that the museum is open until 8p on Thursdays, and they were rightly terrified of the Toronto traffic. In any case, they had a fun exhibit on snakes and lizards as well as "the tools of spys." I really enjoyed the last one as it had lots of puzzles and forks in the activities as one attempted to infiltrate an enemy corporation. So one could go through the exhibit a few times and discover something new. The biggest hit with the kids was a rock band studio where people could grab fake guitars, pick current music to blare out and control the lights while everyone watches on a TV. Our budding rock star, Sarah, very much enjoyed this.

The ride back was uneventful and long even after departing Toronto past 8p. We complain of traffic frequently in the Bay Area, but it is nothing compared to Toronto. No matter the hour, I have always hit at least one slowdown. At least with the traffic sensitive GPS, one can accurately project how long it will take.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Waiting in a Canada Wonderland...

The Rubino boys got a break from girl stuff (or at least girl inability/lack of desire to do the big roller coasters) yesterday and headed off to Canada's Wonderland.

Looking at the park itself, it is a great park--10+ roller coasters: 3 kid level, 4 wooden (one of which was a "kids coaster"), a hyper coaster (80+ MPH, 78 degree fall), a flying coaster (lie on your stomach and fly like superman), 2 suspension style, etc. There appeared to be several shows including ice skating and free diving (we didn't see any of them). The food options were numerous, and we admit to having a funnel cake. The funnel cake took a while to make, but was excellent. They had a funnel cake guy whose job was to pattern the batter into a funnel cake shape. No automation there. In fact, the service was excellent throughout with people clearly taking pride in their work. The coasters were all fully staffed including a person confirming height before people got in line. I saw at least two supervisors (or higher? one wore a suit) walking the park and picking up trash themselves.

The only problem was all of the lines. The park was packed. From the time we got to the entrance of the park until we got in was nearly 20 minutes. Security, of course, was the problem as they had to confiscate any/all sodas and sandwiches, but snacks and water bottles were OK. What-ever. All lines but one were at least 30 minutes and our record was 80 minutes for "Scooby's Haunted Mansion."

But enough kvetching. The weather was perfect. Sunny, low 70's, light breeze. I loved "Time Warp" not because it was a great roller coaster, but because the flying motion was just so much fun. The Behemoth was good as well and the drop was a doozy. The pedistal seating for such a big drop & speed was alarming. I admit to not having my hands up for any of the drops. I think that's the first time I have done that since I was in 4th grade.

CW's waterfall ride was an amazing soaker. I've been on probably 6 of these and they can get wet, but typically those who get wet are the people on the observation bridge. On this one, there were jets that shot water at us as we were going down the hill. And then the splash at the bottom managed to soak us. And then the bridge over the track (which usually gets the full brunt) was angled, so the water that landed on the bridge proceeded to pour over us as we went under it. All the electronics were in the backpack which did not go on the ride, so all was well.

One more ride that CW "did right" was called Rip Tide and was a variant on Firefall at GASC. Unlike Firefall which has a fountain which looks like it will do something, but doesn't. This one had the jets turned up well past 11 and soaked everyone on the ride. At least once on the ride, people are inexorably lowered, upside down into these jets of water. Brilliant. I wonder if there was some stupid lawsuit/fear in the US which prevented all the US parks from having the ride do that....

Another thing I really enjoyed about CW was the diversity of people. There were muslims with their various scarves (one doesn't see that in the US as often). There were also a few groups of Africans with the full robes. I also enjoyed that there were several grandparent aged people going on roller coasters, some apparently for the first time. Either Canadians don't stop living when they switch demographic groups, or they aren't marketed to as heavily on a demographic level, so they feel free to cross "boundries" in the US.

The boys naturally had a good time, and Paul thanked me several times during the day. Apparently McDonalds on the way home, funnel cake at the park, and just the day itself put him in a thankful mood. I had to wake up James for McDonalds, and both were sound asleep by the time we got back to Nanas.

Monday, August 3, 2009

Return to civilization/the internet

We arrived into Brantford, ON late to see the fairly shocked face of my mother in law, Marilyn. I'm still a little shocked at the size of Landshark relative to a neighborhood which I have walked around extensively. One gets used to thinking of Landshark as small relative to all of the other motorhomes, 5th wheels, trailers and so on in your average RV Park. However, driving around a neighborhood which allows parking on only one side of the street is an adventure...

We had a great night sleep, all became re-addicted to screens of various types (internet & Canadas version of the Cartoon Network) and finally pulled ourselves away for a bike ride up the Grand River and time in a playground. Tomorrow we're thinking the Toronto Museum of Science, Wednesday is likely Canada's Wonderland for the boys and Golf/Haircuts for the girls. Thursday and beyond are still TBD. We leave for Cedar Point Saturday or Sunday. That too is TBD. It's nice having options.

Crossing the border

Checking out ones brain completely to the GPS does not always work out. As I've mentioned before, there is a traffic system in the GPS. Whenever we got to cities, it faithfully informed us of impending traffic and if requested, rerouted us.

MSN Direct, unfortunately, does not do border crossings. There are 3 border crossings to Canada around Buffalo, and the time to cross is documented online. We checked. Since that was known, and MSN Direct had been so effective thus far, I assumed that the GPS would route us correctly. It was not to be. 175 minutes after getting 1 mile from the border, we were across. The other crossings were reported at 0-20 minutes, but the one to which we were routed was 90-180 minutes. Throw in a little more stop & go traffic for the first 10 miles of Canada and we had 16.5 hours on the road. Ugh.

But as I have said before on the upsidea of travelling in the RV, it is excellent. While creeping along that mile, Martha was able to clean up the dishes from breakfast & lunch (served enroute), fry up some burgers, feed everyone dinner, clean up the dinner dishes, clean the bathroom, vacuum, mop the floor. The RV looks great.


After finally having come to terms with our not planning to touch the Atlantic after crossing the country, we changed our minds again and decided that we can't not see the Atlantic after having driven so far. And due to a fluke of the mid-Atlantic geography, our shortest path was to drive to NYC and see the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island.

But as Bobbie Burns once said, the best laid plans o' mice n men gang aft agley.

Instead of leaving at 6a, I slept through my alarm (and roosters) to finally wake a 7.15. I quickly grabbed 3 energy bars & a coke and started the engine. Sarah commenced the aforementioned wailing and gnashing of teeth and we drove off under leaden skies. As we got closer and closer to NY, the rain got heavier and heavier. Looking ahead at the weather reports, heavy rain was expected in NYC and a small craft advisory (therefore, no fun on the ferry ride, unlikely to see the statue of liberty from shore). So, 2 hours out from the NJ shore, we adjusted our course 180 degrees for Buffalo and the crossing into Canada.

I was depressed and took a nap while Martha took over the driving. There is a definite upside to voyage en RV.

Life on the farm

Our trip to Greenakeys Farm was a great hit. As we drove off from the farm 36 hours later, Sarah was crying at the top of her lungs "I don't want to drive. I love the farm." Greenakeys was started by my friends from High School, Mike and Annette Akey. They decided a year or so back that the most prudent use of their 401k's and IRAs was to start a farm. Good call. Now they have 60 acres, 20+ cattle, 300+ chickens (1 flock meat, 3 flocks egg producing), 3 goats, 20 sheep, 27 lambs, 3 dogs, several barn cats, one house cat and probably more that I cannot remember. Such is the danger of participating in a CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) group.

James really got into the farming. He wanted to "do rounds" twice a day to collect the eggs, feed the chickens, feed the cattle, etc. Each time there were 80-100 eggs collected. By the end, he got a driving lesson on "The Mule" by Annette who is far more patient than me. And he got to "do rounds" three times.

Dad got to leverage some of his sailing skills by re-attaching the tube for giving the pigs fresh water. The lines were still holding 1 day later, so that likely worked out. I also used my electrical skills by installing my favorite home improvement feature of all. A timer for a bathroom fan. No bathroom is complete without it. Martha did four huge loads of laundry and cleaned out Landshark thoroughly. It was a real pleasure to sleep in Landshark that night.

The food was incredible. Everything we ate grew or was raised on the farm. Eggs were part of every meal as you would well imagine, but the taste of the eggs was awesome. Every egg tasted like it was prepared with a substantial amount of butter even when they were merely boiled. The chicken was to die for. We had potato salad with potatos picked that morning and so on.

There were plenty of kids around with our 3, Annette & Mike's 3 and a neighbor's 2. Fun for all. We also visited Gettysburg with half the kids contingent. When we went to the visitors booth, I received a withering look from the ranger when I asked what to do there given 2 hours. Talk about losing ground after saying that we drove out from California to be there.
In the end, Emily (the 11 year old daughter of Mike & Annette) was our tour guide and took us to the "best for kids" locations. Considering that it settled down two very cranky kids (both ours :( ), Emily has a future as a tour guide or teacher. Not sure which.

We finished with a bonfire to burn all of the wood we carried from California and did not use on our trip, but were prohibited from bringing into Canada. The farm is the highlight of the trip thus far.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Did not meet expectations

It is sad when one builds up the memories of an amusement park too much only to have them not live up to it. I knew that there was a good chance of rain, so I expected a mostly empty park. Unfortunately, it didn't quite work out that way. The parking lot was filling quickly as we arrived as the rain had not yet arrived. Then going in I saw that "Son of Beast" was not running. Considering that this was the ride I most wanted to do, I was semi-bummed. We went on The Beast. Good, not great. Nice moments of drama, but it seemed too slow. Definitely better than anything I have done on the west coast, but not the crusher I remembered. The Prowler is now my favorite roller coaster. And backwards racer is now forwards. Weak.

Then the rains started. Yes, this will clear out the park and shorten these ridiculous lines.

Then they stopped running all of the roller coasters. And many of the other rides. And still people weren't going anywhere. It's as though we came to a mecca of rides where everyone counted on the rain to empty the park, so no one left.

We went to the water park and the boys had a great time while I got more and more drenched. They did have a great surfing ride which the boys really enjoyed. But both cell phones were put out of commission as were the GRMS radios. Thank goodness we didn't bring cameras.

After going back to pickup the napping gals and put on dry clothes, we made the executive decision to blow off Kings Island. We'll be back someday, but now I will have lower expectations.

We're now 1/3 of the way to greenakeys farm ( for our next stop.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Back home again, in Indiana...

Illinois is actually my home, but we've crossed from western Missouri to eastern Indiana in one day. Tomorrow we need to hit the road by 8a to get to Kings Island by the gate opening. Should be a real pleasure compared to hitting the road by 6a this morning...

I can drive 55

On a whim, we decided to drop our speed to 55 & see what happened to our mileage. Holy Doodle! Mileage jumped from a very consistent 8.2MPG to 10.1MPG. Or in other words, we just cut the cost of travel on this shindig by 20% at a cost in time of 30 minutes/day. Very much worth it. I just feel bad for everyone passing us.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Verdant Kansas & Kansas City

I always had a mental picture of Kansas being a very dry country only suitable for range cattle (much like Eastern Colorado was), but it was really quite verdant & hilly so reminded me far more of Ohio or Southern Ontario. The drive was a long one and we stopped part of the way across in Garden City.

En route we picked up the National Parks version of Monopoly. You haven't enjoyed chaos with kids until you've tried playing Monopoly in the back of a bouncing RV as it crosses Kansas. Every time we came to a small town (of which there are many), I'd yell, "Mom's maneuvering!" and we would all grab the board and any pieces on it. I think that listening to Cheaper by the Dozen earlier this week got me in the mood for that game.

Then the next day we managed to get to WOF early enough to get in several big rides except for The Mamba. My favorite was The Prowler, a new wooden roller coaster. It was really fast for a wooden roller coaster. I can't think of anything I have been on like it. This is making me even more excited to check out Kings Island which has my all time favorite woody "The Beast." There's apparently also "The Son of Beast" now which is even better.

Rant coming - if you prefer not to read rants, skip to the next paragraph. In addition to The Prowler, they have another woodie, The Timberwolf. Also an excellent ride. Both are vastly superior to Santa Clara's very lame "Grizzly." I had been wondering if my memory of wooden roller coasters being so good was just because I was young. No, that's not it. Santa Clara's roller coasters are lame. Incredibly lame. Even the steel roller coasters are lame. Flight Deck (nearly 10 yrs old?) is crushed by the similarly designed, but vastly superior Silver Bullet (Knotts Berry Farm) and Patriot (WoF). The Mamba (WoF) was surprisingly good for such an extreme coaster. Better than Accelerator (KBF), and there is nothing to compare it with at SCGA. The best roller coaster at SCGA is Invertigo or perhaps The Demon. The fact that The Demon is one of its best says it all IMHO.

That night we were treated to a spectacular thunderstorm. Paul, Sarah, Martha and I lay on the back bedroom, watched the repeated lightning strikes and listened to the heavy rainfall. It was quite the show. James read or played lego.

Today was a perfect amusement park day. Rain, heavy at times. But no lightning, so no reason to shut down rides. There were no lines to speak of. Any ride we wanted on, we pretty much got directly on. Leveraging the RV we napped from 1-3p, except for James who hit the waterpark next door. We hit still more rides until 8p when we came back for dinner. After that, James headed to the RV park pool to get in a little more swimming. He is a fish. The pool closes in 5 more minutes at 10p. We expect to see him in a few minutes.

Unfortunately, I have no pictures of the last two days. On the plus side, I am now caught up!

We leave tomorrow in the wee hours to hopefully make Cincinnati, or something reasonably close. Kings Island and "The Beast" await!

And I thought the Indiana Sand Dunes were big!

We left the last RV park in the wee hours of the morning to breakfast at the Great Sand Dunes National Park. Several hundred acres of sand dunes over 700 ft tall in spots. Naturally Martha and Paul were determined to climb it, and they did!

The rest of us were not quite so enterprising, though we did have alot of fun nevertheless. While others may have been more prepared than us with sleds and cardboard boxes to slide down the dunes. We had a laundry basket. It wasn't the smoothest ride, but everyone had fun nevertheless.

The next item on the agenda after a few hours at the Great Sand Dunes was a drive across Kansas to Worlds of Fun and Oceans of Fun amusement/water parks.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Cool Colorado

After many hours of driving out of Arches National Park, the climate changed drastically. We drove well into Colorado, and somehow even found ourself in a fairly rain-rich area with temps in the low 70's. Quite a shift from the dry 104 of the previous day.

What was intended to be a transition RV park on the way to Great Sand Dunes National Park turned out to be a real joy. The owner's kids apparently found out that there were twin 9 year old boys and a 3 year old kid, so Landshark's arrival was greeted by its largest welcoming committee yet--at least in terms of numbers, not size. The boys enjoyed a picnic snack discussing the best Shirley Temples they have ever had (I assume the drink) as well as showing off their ability to create belches. Truly a match made in heaven.

After looking at the multitude of travel books, I realized that we drove right by the cliffside dwellings of Mesa Verde, so the next day we were back on the road to backtrack to that most excellent park. The Native Americans (total aside here, does one capitalize both? Or just Americans? Or neither? I'm baffled, but will go the safe route) built these abodes between 900 and 1200 AD. And as the video told us, more people were settled in the region at that time than are currently settled in the region. The shots you see here are of the Spruce Tree House Dwellings named by the ranchers who "found" the site and named it after the trees nearby. Despite such an awesome finding, they were poor botanists as there are no spruces for many miles. But the name stuck.

Arches was awesome

After a very hot night where the air conditioner valiantly fought to bring Landshark's temperature down to 86, we were off to another famous and wonderful sight in southern Utah. Arches. It doesn't sound like much, but they were quite striking.

The only bummer is that dad (me) was being cheap again, so we cut the fuel closely and consequently could not explore the entire park. Well, we're also pretty limited on time, so one good hike was enough for all. Paul and Martha hiked to a second arch and revelled in their achievement.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Utah has the most amazing landscape. When we first entered, it looked completely boring, but as the miles ticked off, the sites grew more and more amazing. It was also fun to be a passenger for the first time as well as score a nap during the drive!

At some point, Martha told Paul about the Richard Spindler rule to good travel photographs--getting people to raise their arms. So now Paul has taken on the habit of getting me to take a shot of him by running ahead to some senic vista, and then raising one or more arms. And of course I take a picture. The funny thing is that when I look through the pictures of the day, all the ones with him and his arms raised are the best ones! I think Richard is on to something.

These shots are of Canyonlands national park. When I get a little more time with GIMP, I'll have some shots of Arches (yesterday) and today's trip to Mesa Verde. Tomorrow we leave in the wee hours to hopefully get in both Great Sand Dunes and spend the night in Dodge City, KS. Hopefully I can get Martha to drive so I can catch up.

There were not alot of people signing up for 100+ degree weather in the desert, so the view from our campground was outstanding.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Several more photos and some details

Amazingly, people have not returned from the pool so I am revelling in a few moments of cleaning up photos with GIMP for PC and reminiscing...

Our KOA site though without a pool had a lovely view of a nearby mountain range. And it's a chance to see the green I mentioned earlier.

The caves were very cool both temperature wise (50 "in the shade") as well as looking. Despite shooting about 30 pictures of the caves, very few came out of any interest. Such is life with a basic SLR setup and lack of Kleig lights. The boys were huge fans of the thumbs up.

What I found more cool was how the down and up of stalactites and stalagmites can go sideways as can be seen here. I also learned that stalactites start out as soda straw shapes and have rings like trees. However, rather than 1 ring/year, it is more like 1 ring/epoch. Some stalactites broken 100 years ago only have 1 inch of growth, and that inch is the width of a soda straw.

On our way out of the caves, there was a small grove of apricot trees and deer loving the fruits of the trees. Unfortunately it started to rain quite hard, so we ran for Landshark.

Wildlife adventures did not end there. In a particularly back to nature moment, I was taking a shower behind Landshark in a seemingly secluded spot, when I heard a noise. I turned around sharply to see a young 6 point buck lowering his head in my direction. Oh about 10 ft away. I froze. He looked at me again, and lowered his head again. Then I noticed that the rains had caused a small stream to build up behind our campsite. He just wanted a drink. I told him it was OK. He would have gotten that drink had James not come by with his mouth loaded with carrots. Such is life with nature. I dressed and told Martha it was her turn with the shower. :)

And just one more shot of those doing the stargazing...

Time travel

I've either been w/o time to post for a while, or without wifi. Either way, I haven't been able to post. So, this will address a few days back...

The ride across Nevada was unsurprisingly lonely, but surprisingly green. No, I did not drop off any passengers prematurely (though the thought has crossed my mind), we drove down US-50 "The Loneliest Highway in America" The first 20 miles were plenty busy, but after that, one could look for 10 miles and not see a car. And it was quite beautiful & green. Somehow I always assumed that Nevada was a wasteland and Las Vegas, Reno and Carson City did nothing to indicate otherwise. However, once one was in the middle of the state, it was certainly greener than the mountains all around SV and anywhere in the Central Valley which is not actively irrigated.

After a fairly long day and strong levels of frustration evidenced by one and all, we stayed outside Ely, not quite hitting our target of Great Basin National Park. It was a Koa, unfortunately sans swimming pool. However, it did allow us all some time to unwind from two days on the road before sundown. Then the next day we were able to get into Great Basin NP early and boondock. We checked out Lehman Caves and at night looked at the Milky Way. I also tried picking up the guitar for the first time in about 5 years. My fingers are still aching.

On the electronics front, we've so far gone through DragonSong by Anne McCaffery, Cheaper by the Dozen by whoever wrote that and have started on The Hobbit today. We seem to be doing 2/3 of an audio book/day of travel. By the end we will cover quite alot of audio books.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

We made it!

The engine went on at 3.30p and the parking brake came off at 3.40p. We were on our way. Since our plan for the day was Nevada or bust (that was back when our plan was departure at noon), we went for it anyway. 6 or so hours later w/o a break for dinner or bathroom (at least for me, your humble driver) we pulled into the Desert Rose RV park. Exhausted. Well, Martha and I were. The kids had plenty of energy. I think we managed lights out at 11.15p. And in the desert, things wake up early. It'll be a tough day, but this time we should be on the road at 10a. We'll see.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Loaded for bear

I didn't get a heck of alot of sleep last night. Too much belated research. We continue to load up Landshark including recent acquisitions from the AAA. I had forgotten (lost? egads!) my AAA card, but they hooked me up anyhow. Even with the wide angle lens it was hard to capture the shelf of AAA books. And I've got a whole bag full of maps in case the GPS gets hit by lightning.

Speaking of the GPS, I finally buckled down and bought a MS product which was not Office or an OS. A Garmin 760 w/ MSN direct, built in blue-tooth and MP3 player. The MSN direct works directly w/ the GPS so I can see traffic, and more importantly, the cheapest gas around. When one is filling 45-50 gallons, a few cents makes a huge difference. We've filled two tanks so far saving $0.10 / gallon off the cheapest price I would have found.

In other electronics news, we also have a Verizon portable hotspot. It hooks into the Verizon network and then provides wifi so my iTouch and Martha's computer are both hooked up. We'll use wifi in campgrounds, but when on the road or further off the beaten track, we're still hooked up. Awesomely convenient.

Enough procrastination. I need to get back to loading up the Shark.