Bad Garmin!

Branson, MO —  I made it!  For a while I wasn’t sure I would.

I had a great time visiting family in the Columbia area.  I really should visit more often!  It’s been a long time since I’ve been able to roll around on the floor with young children.  They even let me play with their toys.

While I was there we also went down to the Lake of the Ozarks which has over 1100 miles of shoreline.  If you’re ever there I can recommend Baxters Lakeside Grill.   It has a very nice decor, and great views from its perch on the hillside.  The food was good, and the prices were much less than what I would have expected given it’s Anthony’s-like appearance.

Baxter's Lakeside Grill
Baxter’s Lakeside Grill
Lake of the Ozarks
Lake of the Ozarks

You might be interested in gas prices.  As I’m burning about 12 mpg,   I certainly am!  Don’t you wish I could bring some back for you?

This is the lowest price I've seen so far
This is the lowest price I’ve seen so far. Too bad my tank was full

So why did I title this post “Bad Garmin!”?   As some of you know I’ve been trying to avoid interstate driving.  It started off well enough.  Here’s a nice little roadside park that I stopped at.

Roadside Park
Roadside Park

Later, on my way to Branson, the Garmin decided I needed to try a little off-roading.  I’ll spare you the details, but I ended up driving about 10 miles on single lane dirt roads until I finally reached a washed-out bridge.  I managed to get the truck turned around and only found my way back to civilization with the help of a nice old farmer, who, with his slow southern drawl, started to tell me all about how the bridge washed out, and how people still keep trying to take that 30 mile shortcut.  He eventually told me how to get to Branson.

While I was on this dirt road I had to: cross streams; slow to a crawl because of low branches; edge my way around a huge (rolled) bail of hay that had been dropped in the middle of the road between the time I first went through and my return; and stop for three deer.  I complain about the Garmin, but it did make for an adventure.  I’m just glad that no one took a  shot at me, or that they missed because of the huge cloud of dust that I was throwing up.

Bad Garmin
Bad Garmin

Miles Today: 277
Total Miles: 2786
Avg Miles/Day: 232 (including non-travel days)

Next Stop, a small town in East Texas

What makes Nebraska Special

Columbus, NE — As I’ve mentioned before, in preparation for this trip I’d asked several people what I should see in Nebraska.  Other than the comment about 2″ steaks, I mostly got blank stares.   The landscape near the South Dakota border was actually quite nice, but was not, admittedly, something one would travel some distance to see.

With 2-inch steaks as my only lead, I decided to have a steak dinner in Columbus.   I finally found the central district, which seemed kind of quiet, but two nice old ladies pointed me to the Husker House.  It was perfect.   The ‘Jack Daniels Sirloin’ wasn’t quite two inches thick, but it was very good, and I kind of like the fact that they don’t appear to have remodeled since 1960.   It was in the Husker House that I discovered what makes Nebraska Special.

Not long after I ordered, a man and his wife sat down with their daughter and son-in-law.  They were there to celebrate a special event.  Almost immediately after being seated they started pulling me into the conversation.   Upon telling them my story about searching for things to see in Nebraska, they too tried to come up with something without much success.   The dinner conversation touched on many other topics as well making for a thoroughly enjoyable meal .  Good food, and great company.

It was getting late.  I finished my meal and was anxious to get going and find some place to stay for the night.   When I went to pay the bill the waitress told me that the gentleman next to me had already paid for my dinner.   It was then that he told me that they may not have much to see in Nebraska, but the people here are really nice.   I told him I couldn’t agree more!   That’s when I understood.  Everyone I’d met, from the two old ladies downtown, to the waitress, to the people at the table next to me had been very friendly.  What makes Nebraska great is the people!

Miles Today: 381
Total Miles: 2099
Avg Miles/Day: 233

The Nebraska sunrise picture at the top of this post was taken near Columbus. I needed to get an early start if I was going to make it to my sister’s house before dark. The sunrise was my reward.

Next stop:  Columbia, Missouri

Excuse me, can you tell me what planet I’m on?

Badlands National Park, SD —   I must have taken a wrong turn coming out of Wall. This doesn’t look like the planet I started on!  Where are the trees, the snow-capped mountains, the lush forests, and the gurgling streams?  And why is the ground the wrong color??

After Montana and Wyoming, the Badlands do feel alien.  That said, I wish I had more time to spend here.  I think I could have spent a week taking pictures along the Badlands Scenic Byway.  There’s so much to look at, but for good pictures I really needed to be at some places at sunrise, and other places at sunset to do the park justice.


This was my first time through the badlands.  The terrain was amazing, and so much different than what I’d seen anywhere else.


The moon was rising as I neared the east end of the park.  This bit does remind me a bit of planet earth, somewhere in the Southwest.

badlands4They actually have a couple of campgrounds in the park.  What a fun place to stay!  Way more fun than a Marriot Courtyard!


Earlier in the day before entering the Badlands I went to Wall Drug, and a Minuteman Missile Silo.

Wall Drug is a famous tourist trap.  I don’t know how many signs Wall drug has along highway 90, but I suspect they have more than one person employed keeping the signs looking nice.   I guess their first sign, back in the day, simply advertized free ice water.

Wall Drug Highway Adverts
Wall Drug Highway Adverts

I didn’t spend much time in Wall.  The whole town is one long series of shops selling t-shirts, cowboy clothing, food and trinkets.  It was actually quite busy there — lots of cars as well as tour buses full of elderly folks.  I didn’t ask for my free water.

Wall Drug
Wall Drug

The missile silo I visited was a bit of a bust.  The visitors center doesn’t have too much to look at, and the quality of the video they showed wasn’t that great.  The control center might have been interesting, but they only allow 72 people a day to tour “the capsule”, so I would have had to been there around 7AM to get one of the coveted tickets.  The actual silo, which is several miles from the visitors center, takes about 10 seconds to look because there’s nothing to do but peer down into the silo from ground level.   Let me save you the trouble.  This picture is actually better than what you can see by eye because I held the camera out, and against the glass structure covering the silo.  I couldn’t see much without the camera because of the glare in the bright sun.

Minuteman Missile Silo
Minuteman Missile Silo

Next up:  The amazing thing I learned about Nebraska

Miles Today: 196
Total Miles: 1718
Avg Miles/Day: 215

Mount Rushmore and a day off.

Custer, SD —  I’m finally back in civilization, meaning that I have access to WiFi, cell phones, and laundry facilities.  I’ve added several blog posts today in an attempt to catch up.

I’m currently spending my second night in Custer before heading back north towards Wall and the Minuteman missile silo turned national park.  After that I need to point south and make significant progress towards my sister’s place in MO. I’ll probably pass through parts of Nebraska. I don’t know that there’s much to see, but someone at the barber shop told me that you can’t get a steak that’s less than 2″ thick in Nebraska. Armed with that bit of info, there’s no way I’m bypassing that state!

Yesterday I stopped at Mt. Rushmore.   The sculpture is impressive to me, not so much for what it is, but for the scale of the ambition.  It’s quite humbling to compare one’s own accomplishments to both the sculptor and the sculpted.

While I didn’t speak to the gentleman,  they actually had one of the guys who worked on the monument sitting at a table in the gift shop.   It was hard, dangerous work, for which the men earned about $8/day.  That was probably good money at the time.   It’s amazing that no one died in making the monument.  It was certainly dangerous work.

I trekked down to the sculptor’s studio where I saw the 1/12 scale model used during construction.  As you can see from this picture, the sculptor, Gutzon Borglum, could view both the model and the mountain at the same time.  Apparently, the model was regularly modified to accommodate the realities of the rock they were carving into.

Sculptor's Studio
Sculptor’s Studio

This last picture proved a bit of a challenge.  I couldn’t get the exposure right for both  the 1/12 scale model and the real-thing in the window.  I admit, in this instance, to a bit more editing than my other pictures.  Still, this isn’t a composite image, it’s a single picture.  I’ve just had to work to pull out the detail in the shadows.

Here are the stats after my idle day:

Miles Today: 0
Total Miles: 1522
Avg Miles/Day: 217

At this point in the trip my lodging costs are averaging $16 per day. The park that I’m in now for two nights is $15/night with the Passport America discount. The national forest parks that I stayed in before getting here were free, and it cost me $33 for the night in Yellowstone. With fuel, it’s been costing me about $60 per day which is certainly cheaper than hotels, never mind fuel costs.  Food is a don’t-care since I would have been buying groceries anyway.

Beartooth Pass and the Little Big Horn

Red Shale Campground, Custer National Forest —  OK,  I’ll admit it.  I wasn’t sure I wanted to drive over an 11,000 foot pass in an RV.  SteveL had recommended this road, but you have to remember, he did it on a motorcycle.   Still,  I decided the truck and I were up to the challenge of driving over a  pass that’s 200 feet higher than Mt. Baker.  Remember that next time you look at Mt Baker, my truck with camper was 200 feet higher than the top of that volcano.    All I can say is,  it was a blast!  Where else can you drive through alpine meadows and past alpine lakes like the one pictured at the top of this post?  Whoever decided to put this road in is absolutely crazy!

Here’s a shot on the way up the West side

West Side Beartooth Pass
West Side Beartooth Pass

I made it to the top!  It’s pretty cold and windy.  That, and the fact that I my truck doesn’t have a pressurized cabin meant that  I didn’t stay at “the top of the world” very long.

Beartooth Pass Summit, Elev.10,947 feet
Beartooth Pass Summit, Elev. 10,947 feet

Here are a couple of pictures taken on the east side of the pass.  These were not taken from an airplane!

East side of Beartooth Pass
East side of Beartooth Pass
East side of Beartooth Pass
East side of Beartooth Pass

I celebrated my transit with my first restaurant meal of the trip.  I had breakfast at small cafe in the town of Red Lodge, a small town on the Montana side of the pass.

After Red Lodge I made my way to the historic site of the Battle of Little Big Horn.   There’s not much to see beyond a monument and grave markers, though the visitors center does have some of Custer’s belongings and other artifacts.   I’m glad I stopped.  There’s a lot of historical significance to this special place,  and later I couldn’t help but visualize the life of the nomadic tribes as I crossed over the Northern Plains on my way to the Black Hills of South Dakota.

Here’s the view as Custer would have seen it the day he and his men died.  I like the fact that the Park Service noted that both sides fought for what they believed, for their people.  It was nicely balanced.

Custer's Last Stand
Custer’s Last Stand

Next Stop:  Mount Rushmore

Miles Today: 252
Total Miles: 1286
Avg Miles/Day: 257


Yellow Stone Park and the Grand Tetons

Fox Creek Campground — Yellowstone is a really interesting place.  It would be a great place if there weren’t so many people.  I say this having visited in late September when most of the crowds were gone.  In fact, I stayed in the park only one night — the last night that the campground I was in was open.  Pretty much everything in the park was shutting down.

The roads around Yellowstone aren’t very scenic compared to what I’d seen passing through Montana.  That’s because they’re mostly tree-lined 2-lane roads.  Nice, but nothing special.   What makes Yellowstone special is the stuff that bubbles out of the ground, and the wildlife.  That said, the misty picture at the top of this post was taken near the South entrance to the park.

As for the wildlife.  It is abundant, but not as abundant as the people.  So, if you want to spot the wildlife, just look for the crowds.  I learned that lesson not more than 10 minutes after entering the park.  Take this elk for example.  I took this picture from inside my truck.

Elk -- The illusion
Elk — The illusion

Of course, the reason that I could take this picture is that I was stuck in a traffic jam caused by said elk.  Can you spot the elk beyond the people?

Elk -- The Reality
Elk — The Reality

I can see why the less informed might wander up to these “wild” animals.  They almost seem to have been placed there by the park staff — for the wilderness experience.  It’s just like Disneyland!

My next great wildlife shot occurred a few miles down the road.  Aren’t these Bison great?

Bison -- The Illusion
Bison — The Illusion

I didn’t need a long lens for that last shot.  I did, however, have to wait a bit for the bison to move so I could park the truck.

Bison -- The Reality
Bison — The Reality

The only time I needed a long lens for wildlife was when I was shooting the Grizzly.  Again, there was a crowd of people, but the rangers wisely kept everyone a few hundred yards away.  Eventually this bear wandered back into the trees.  With a Grizzly that close I decided not to hang around in event that the rangers re-opened the Mud Volcano trail.

Grizzly near Mud Volcano

I missed seeing Old Faithful by about 3 minutes.   I’m sure the 300 odd people that were there enjoyed it.  However,  I did see lots of interesting things bubbling or spewing out of the ground.   Here are a few shots.

Silex Spring
Silex Spring
Small Geyser
Small Geyser
Mud Pot
Mud Pot

While not that impressive as a photograph, one of my favorites  is Dragon’s Mouth Spring, near the Mud Volcano. The name is so appropriate.  It’s hard to believe that this attraction wasn’t dreamed up by some Disney Imagineer.   What the photo doesn’t capture is the belching noises and the waves of water that accompany them.  Here’s a YouTube video that sort of captures the sound.

ysDragon's Mouth Spring
Dragon’s Mouth Spring

On my way towards the NE exit,  I did pass a spectacular canyon with some amazing geological features.  Here’s a shot of that area.  You really need to click the picture to see the detail.   I’m not sure of what the place is called, but that’s the Yellowstone River.

Yellowstone River Canyon
Yellowstone River Canyon

As I was in the neighborhood,  I made an early morning trip down to the Grand Tetons before heading up the east side of Yellowstone Park.  Wow!   It was gorgeous!  Don’t the Tetons look great in the morning light?

Grand Tetons

Up next,  Beartooth Pass — Crazy!

Miles Today:178
Total Miles:1034
Avg Miles/Day: 259

Virginia City — Great place to visit

Virginia City —  It’s not big, and it won’t take you long to see what there is to see, but what impressed me about Virginia City, MT is that it’s not really a tourist trap.  This gold-rush ghost town has a large collections of period buildings, many of which were moved there from other places.  That said,  they weren’t turned into cheezy t-shirt and gift shops.   Sure, there are a few buildings like that, but most of the them are set up with period interiors.  The best part — it’s all free.   Step inside the doorways and you’ll see an old dry goods store, barber shop, newspaper, or dress shop.

I hope you enjoy the pictures.  But before I show you Virginia City,  here’s a shot from Nevada City, which is less than one mile away.  One of the great things about a truck camper for a road trip is that you can park almost anywhere.   Here’s my truck in front of the Star Bakery.  If you ever pass through Nevada City, stop and try the cinnamon rolls.  They’re perfect.  Not very sweet, and very soft.  The locals seem to eat here.


Star Bakery, Nevada City, MT
Star Bakery, Nevada City, MT

As you can see, the Virginia City isn’t very large.

Virginia City (almost all of it!)
Virginia City (almost all of it!)

Here are some example of what you’ll see when you step inside a doorway.

Dry Goods Store
Dry Goods Store
Barber Shop
Barber Shop
Sweet Shop
Sweet Shop
Fire Engine
Fire Engine

Here’s a peek at the other side of the street.

More Virginia City Buildings
More Virginia City Buildings

If only every day could be like this one…

Virginia City — My expectations for today were admittedly low as I just knew I was in for a lot of boring interstate driving.   I couldn’t have been more wrong.  I’m predicting that today will end up ranking near the top of great driving days on this trip.

It’s probably been twenty years  since I’ve been east of CDA on I-90;  it was like seeing this scenery for the first time, and it was nothing short of spectacular!  As the trip progressed from rugged mountains to open forests and valleys, not once did I find that there wasn’t something interesting to look at (well, except for the gas stop at Costco in Missoula).    If I didn’t have a more distant destination in mind  I think I could have played around in Western Montana for quite some time.

Click on the pictures for a larger image.  Even enlarged, it’s hard to capture the scale of the scenery in a picture.


From I-90 West of Missoula
From I-90 West of Missoula
Road (It’s a road trip!) I-90 west of Missoula

The Garmin provided me with the icing on the cake.  It routed me off of I-90 in Butte and  put me on Montana Highway 2, which is a twisty two lane road more suited to a motorcycle or sports car than an RV.

The truck did great.  It really doesn’t seem to roll much in the twisties.   I’m just glad I wasn’t towing something or I’d been cursing the Garmin!   I’m also glad that I had the road to myself; it was a steep climb, which at the peak approached 6800 feet according to my altimeter.   This next picture was taken on that road.  The early fall colors are typical of what I witnessed all day long.


Montana Highway 2
Montana Highway 2 near Butte

From HW 2  I turned onto HW 41.   These last two pictures were taken as I drove along this valley.  I could probably see 100 miles.

Montana Highway 41
Montana Highway 41
Montana Highway 41
View to East from Highway 41

I arrived too late to do, or see anything in Virginia City,  an gold-rush ghost town.  Tomorrow I’ll explore town.  Though not the most famous one, this town also has a cemetery named Boot Hill.

As for the check-engine light.  It finally went out only to come back on again when the engine was under a bit more strain.  Lee could be right about the transmission.  It might also be the EGR valve — I’m sure I’m blowing out a bit of carbon 8-).


Miles Today: 372
Total Miles: 712
Avg Miles/Day: 354

The Trip Begins!

Coeur d’Alene —  Well, I’m finally on my way.   Everything seems to be working  great except that a check engine light came on when I was driving up the west side of the pass.  That said, the truck seems to be running well, so I’ll just pretend it’s having a BMW moment and push on.

I’m currently in an RV  park in town.  There seem to be a lot of people living full time in here.  Except for a bit of distant traffic noise, it was pretty quiet last night, and the WiFi seems to work great, so not a bad stop.

I hope to have pictures with most of my future posts, but this leg was just a bunch of I-90 driving.  I don’t expect to have internet, or phone access tomorrow, so it may be a day or two before I update the blog again.

Next stop, somewhere in Montana.

Miles Today:  336
Total Miles: 336
Avg Miles/Day: 336

The Rig

This is my home for the next few weeks.  It’s a Northern Lite 9’6″ camper built in Canada in 1994, making it only three years older than the ’97 Chev K2500 it’s setting on.  The Northern Lite brand is generally regarded as one of the highest quality campers on the market.  I like that it’s made of fiberglass.  Besides being lighter, it’s built like a boat;  I understand boats.


The camper is fully self-contained and well equipped.  It has air conditioning, propane heat, a bathroom with a shower, a three-way refrigerator, a stove with an oven, hot and cold running water, and a full size bed.  In other words, it has just about everything a guy who’s desperate to avoid airlines, hotels and rental car companies would need, and, it’s larger inside than a Tokyo hotel room.  There’s even room for my piano, should I decide to take it with me.

I’ve spent the last five months getting the camper and truck ready for the trip.  Along the way I’ve also made some upgrades including all-LED interior lighting, LED clearance lights, a new battery charger and fuse panel, and  a new 8″ memory-foam mattress.  New roof vents and miles of butyl tape will hopefully prevent any water leaks.

On the truck I’ve installed frame-mounted tie downs and an automatic charge relay along with all of the other wiring necessary to run the lights and charge the camper battery.  I also splurged and fixed the truck’s air conditioning and had a new windshield installed.  With new plugs, wires, tires, rear shocks, radiator, air filter, brake and transmission fluid,  I’m hoping to avoid any mechanical problems while on the road.  The truck just turned over 100,000 miles, so a lot of the maintenance was needed anyway.

A shakedown trip to Ocean Shores uncovered the need for longer sewer hoses, which presented a problem — where to put the smelly things?  Guessing that I wasn’t the first to have this problem I searched the web.  It turns out that you can fabricate a hollow bumper with a sliding hose tray out of a vinyl fence post and a section of rain gutter.  So, after a trip to the big box stores and a bit of welding to fabricate a support that fits into the truck’s trailer hitch,  I now have an extra “RV bumper” with 20′ of hose.  That plus the 10′ in the camper should handle most situations.  If not,  I guess I’ll cut back on the coffee.


I’ve borrowed my high-gain WiFi antenna and router from the boat.  While not properly installed outside on the camper roof, I’m hoping that it will work well enough to pick up the WiFi signal in the RV parks.  With WiFi and a small portable inverter to run the computer, I’m ready to go!

If you’re into specifications…

  • Fresh Water tank (US Gal) 24
  • Waste tank (Us Gal) 6
  • Gray tank (US Gal) 11*
  • Hot Water tank (US gal) 6
  • Propane Gas lbs 40 (two standard bottles, like on your BBQ)
  • Approx dry weight (lbs) 1450  (guessing more like 1700 with the options).

* I was wondering how I was going to tell when the gray water tank is full.  During the shakedown cruise I discovered that it’s quite simple; the tank backs up into the shower pan. Not fun, but not a disaster either.  The gray water tank is mostly soapy water from the sinks or shower.