Monthly Archives: November 2017

Moab Museum

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Moab has a small museum that is run by volunteers and is open every day. Mondays are free admission. We spent about three hours looking at all the items and it was well worth our time. The museum has sections including this display of local dinosaur fossils. We spent the most time in this section. In addition to the fossils are several information maps showing the boundaries ancient oceans that inundated the region and created the stunning land forms. We enjoyed seeing that special local context.

There is also a fascinating three dimensional map made by a local from balsa wood.

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There was also a detailed section covering the history of mining in the area. The big item was uranium. There was a rush to find and mine uranium from WW2 through the cold war.

There was a very large selection of photographs showing the origin of the town and much of its history. Again it gave us much appreciated context for the fascinating town we had spent the previous week walking around. I particularly enjoyed a video and a section that listed all the movies that have been made into the Moab area. Some of my favourite old westerns were done right here in Moab with the Colorado doubling for other famous rivers like the Rio Grande.

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Finally in the upper floor was a series of works by local artists. Several of the pieces were for sale. The dinosaur pictures were our favourites.

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If you get to Moab I highly recommend taking in this little gem of a museum. We went on a cool windy day when other activities outdoors would have been problematic. Plus Mondays are free.

Moab Daily – Colorado River

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The Moab Daily refers to a stretch of the Colorado river above Moab that is the perfect length for one day travel. Every year many people will arrange to take the Moab daily in a rented boat. Depending on the conditions this stretch has Class 1 to Class 3 rapids. The river is treacherous with undertows and whirlpools and swimming is not recommended. This length of the river also has a nice road that makes up the first 20 or so miles of the La Sal Mountain Loop.

We stopped at various points along the way including this place where two Japanese tourists were waiting for the rest of their party before doing their own Moab Daily run.

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At strategic spots where space allows are several tiny campgrounds. Some are suitable only for tenting. A few places are good enough for a small to medium sized RV or travel trailer. There were some interesting informational signs as well. I never would have thought of pike and wall eye as nuisance invasive fish you need to catch with no limit but here on the Colorado that is exactly what they are.

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The road is narrow and hugs the sides of the canyons. In many places the rock walls are so close they have put reflector tape right on the rock wall so you don’t hit at night.

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For the first six miles out of Moab there is this fabulous parallel bike path, two lanes and paved. This place is a bikers dream and we saw all kinds of people on bikes from professional mountain bikers with incredibly fancy gear to families with toddlers in kiddie seats and little ones on tiny bikes with training wheels.

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The giant boulders are perfect for training in rock climbing and we saw families having lessons and practicing on the big boulders. You can’t help but think that at any moment a new boulder can break free and roll down on you. And everywhere is the canyon with the river below for miles and miles.

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We enjoyed our time following the Colorado River on the Moab Daily. We spent about four hours driving up and back and stopped at various sites along the way. We even got to see the famous beach John Wayne took a wagon train over in the movie Rio Grande. Of course it wasn’t rally the Rio Grande, it was the Colorado. And apparently the Colorado river tastes good too.

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We had one really nice surprise when we got back to town. We took the dogs walking at the Kinsmen park where the Colorado Daily route ends in Moab and we crossed the footbridge. And there we encountered a group of young men preparing for some acrobatic slack lining. This kind of high risk, high fun sport is going on all the time in the Moab area. Even if you don’t feel up to it yourself, you can enjoy some of it vicariously. We certainly did. The slack line folks complained that tight rope walking on their lines took all their concentration and the water skiers passing underneath distracted them and made them fall off so they were left hanging by their harnesses. But the complaints weren’t that serious. It was all in good fun. I have to say that of all the places we visited in the Moab area, the Moab Daily was my favourite.

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La Sal Mountain Loop is Not Good for Old Dogs and Asthmatics.

The La Sal mountain loop is one of those drives just everyone takes on the visit to Moab. The La Sal Mountains are a small row of high mountains that dominate the skyline around Moab. The first part of the trip is to follow the Colorado river through a long and spectacular canyon. You then drive through Castle Valley which climbs steadily upwards. You then turn into the Mahn La Sal National Forest. There are some lovely small lakes and alpine meadows, some campgrounds. You then travel a winding road back down. The high area is in the 11,000ft range. The top of the mountains reaches 12200ft above you. The first part of the drive along the Colorado is a story of its own I’ll post about next time.

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We paused at the entrance to Castle Valley. The roads are being redone and they are closed on weekdays but they are open weekends for us tourists. Much of the Castle Valley road goes through private land including a huge vegetable farm run by the Seventh Days Adventists and there are many signs saying tourists are not welcome. Nonetheless the steep drive up was breathtaking, dominated by the Castle and needle formations. This is the valley many famous westerns were set in.

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As we climbed my ears began to pop. I also became excited. it was fun to climb and climb and climb. We entered the drive into the National Forest and then we really started climb. The road was freshly paved but it had no guard rails and no lines. So it really was sheer cliffs off the side. Plus the climb was so steep the truck was working hard in low gear. These were steep, tight, narrow switch backs. My prairie girl heart was in my throat as I drove.

At last we reached the top and the pavement ran out for the last highest stretch where a dirt road twists past the best of the alpine sights and side roads go off to the lakes and trails. But I was in trouble.

I hate being reminded of my physical limitations but the La Sal mountain loop was once of those days. Honestly, I really should have known better because I have been here before but I was caught up in the excitement of the travel and I forgot I don’t do well at high altitude.The last time I was up at 11,000ft was back in 1993 when I attended a conference in Telluride Colorado. We went through the Rabbit Ears pass. Our car died and Dick went with a kind passerby to get help. I spent a horrible hour lying the car feeling like I was going to die. I was dizzy, nauseous, had a terrible headache, and felt so weak I couldn’t even sit up without forcing myself. When my husband returned with a tow truck rescue he had to half carry me to our ride back down the mountain. I should have remembered. I didn’t. At our conference in Telluride at 9000ft I wasn’t ready to pass out but I kept getting sicker and sicker which I attributed to a bad asthma flair. My asthma did not get better with my meds. It got worse and worse. I began to think I had developed pneumonia again and I needed an antibiotic. I couldn’t even walk up a few steps without dragging myself. The day before we were scheduled to leave when I felt so horrible I telephoned the hotel doctor. He was very blunt.

“You have mountain sickness. You have to get down to a lower altitude. Leave first thing in the morning and get off the mountain. Don’t stay on. This will kill you. There is no treatment but to get to a lower altitude.” He then went on to explain that people like me with lung issues are especially prone to mountain sickness. Exactly as he predicted, I soon felt perfectly fine once we got down to 5000ft.

Now, here I was at 11,000ft again. I had gone voluntarily and without preparation. Foolish me. My head was hurting so badly I felt like I was going to have a stroke. My heart was racing. I was dizzy, nauseous, my hands were numb and tingling and the nail beds looked blue. I was shaking and I felt panicky. To reinforce my nasty feeling, Fred, who is an elderly dog with his own health issues, had collapsed in the back of the truck and was lying there panting heavily his tongue hanging out as blue as my nail beds. Dick and I had a few quick words. Should we continue finish the loop, and then go down the other side? Or should we turn around and go back the way we came? My sensation of imminent death due to a blinding headache grew and grew as we talked and I began to wonder if I could even manage to drive down. We opted to turn around and go back down as that was the quickest way to get lower. While I carefully turned the truck around with Dick outside spotting to make sure I did not go over the edge, head reeling, Dick paused for a few shots.

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Ears popping, spinning dizzy, shaking all over, I carefully retraced our path downwards. I was grateful we had decided to turn around because this meant I remembered what was coming on the drive. We continued down with the truck in low gear to minimize breaking and with each curve down, ears popping all over again, I felt a little better. By the time we got out of the National Forest I no longer felt like my head was going to explode. Instead I just had the really weird sensation of being aware of pulsing in every major blood vessel in my head and neck. Fred was doing better as well. As we passed Castle Rock, Fred had quit the heavy panting and he was sitting up again. My nail beds looked pink and so did Fred’s tongue. The headache had diminished to the point I no longer felt like I was about to have a stroke. Dick was sympathetic but bewildered. He had only felt a bit short of breath. He does not have lung issues, lucky fellow.

We looked at the map once we got back. We had made it almost to the turnoff to geyser pass. Too bad my poor lungs were in no shape to finish the drive. It would have been wonderful. We made some jokes about getting an oxygen tank for Fred and I and going up the rest of the drive from the other side since that way was shorter but they were jokes. I am just no good at 11,000ft. The only way we could ever do it is if I spent weeks slowly acclimatizing at gradually higher altitudes. No alpine meadow is worth it. I am prairie girl with bad lungs and I’ll just live with it that way. The La Sal mountain loop is really lovely but those brochures and recommendations should come with a warning for those with health issues. Climb 7000ft in such a short drive at your own risk.

 

Canyonlands National Park’s Islands in the Sky

Our second day of staying in Moab we took in the northern part of Canyonlands National Park. This road and trail system is called Islands in the Sky. It is not just a fanciful name. As I stood on the overviews I kept thinking how this is really the northern end of the Grand Canyon and it is indeed grand.

Canyonlands is laid out much like Arches. There is a visitor’s centre and a long stretch of highway with many overlooks and trails from very long and difficult to short little walks. We had the dog issue to consider again so we didn’t do any long trails but we did do all the short ones. Unlike Arches, the distances between the various overlooks was quite far. The longest one being 35 miles, but the views are spectacular so I didn’t mind. For context, this portion of the park is on a triangle of land in between the Green and Colorado River (which runs through Moab on the right of the picture) and both rivers have their own canyons and the two eventually blend where the confluence is. The drives take you to various overlooks so you can see both rivers and their canyon and the last point is the grand view overlooking the confluence point. The rivers are so deep in the canyon that don’t really see them. You just get glimpses of bends. The canyon has two rims, the one we were on and a lower one about halfway that forms a secondary plateau. All around the lower rim of the two canyons is a 100 mile long trail for four wheel drives with higher clearance and power than my F150. It takes two full days to drive that 100 mile trip giving one the idea of how challenging such a drive is. We kept seeing glimpses of the road from every view point.

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At each overlook we stopped and walked about taking in the grandeur. It is so beautiful I actually felt drained and in awe by the time we were finished. Everything about it is stark and potentially dangerous. It is easy to walk right up to the edges of the canyon. Dick and I both suffered vertigo, something we normally don’t. I was able to go closer than Dick. Prairie flatlanders that we are, the sheer cliffs and towering heights were overwhelming in their beauty.

I have to work on this whole selfie thing. I can’t seem to get a good shot. Dick took pictures of me while I tried to do a selfie and the result was amusing.

When you are accustomed to the lushness of green Manitoba in summer the desert seems a harsh and unwelcoming place, as barren as winter. The main feature and only bit of green is these tall twisted junipers. They smell heavenly. There are wide spaces with nothing but sand and dirt. Dick was delighted to find a single ant. I saw one grasshopper, just one. The only other living creatures we saw were ravens. The ravens liked to ride the thermals just off the cliff edges increasing my sense of vertigo watching them. I do wish I could fly.

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It took us several hours of go over all of the viewpoints and walk the trails we could where we felt safe leaving the dogs in the truck. Even though we only did short trails, by the end of the day we were both exhausted. The drive back from Canyonlands to our campground seemed to take forever. We both fell asleep early and slept soundly. Another item crossed off my personal bucket list. However as we gave the dogs a last walk before bed we both commented on how lovely the area is but how much it does not feel like home to us. We are both beginning to miss the open prairie sky. Our trip to Moab has made us appreciate our own home even more.

 

Arches National Park

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View back into the Moab canyon and main highway below as we climbed up into the park.

There are certain places in America that have been in so many movies and visited by so many people, that they become iconic symbols of eras and states. Arches National Park is one of those places. It is also almost required that if you are any kind of RVer you get to Arches. I have not read an RVer blog yet where someone did not get to Arches or planned on it. And so I arrived in Moab with a great sense of anticipation. Arches was our first destination. I was very glad we decided to stay in a nice campground in Moab and drive into the park leaving the trailer behind. The entrance into Arches is up several steep and winding curves. I’m not sure my truck would have made it pulling that trailer. There is also no room to pass so no crawling along in low gear. The drive was spectacular and breathtaking.

Visiting Arches means you can drive up to some of the major sites by this lovely freshly repaved road. You can park and then walk to overlooks or take the longer trails as you wish. The weather was absolutely perfect for us. It was clear, sunny, about 60F (10C) with a light breeze. We had to leave the dogs in the truck because dogs are not allowed on any trails. This restricted us to places where we could see the truck and be able to leave the windows open but it was cool enough that the dogs would not get overheated. I would very strongly advise not taking dogs along if you don’t have this kind of weather.

We started at the visitor centre which was very well done. There was a short movie about the geology and many displays of how the arches formed. We enjoyed the background information. We made sure our water bottles were full and that we used the washrooms. We were warned that due to the ongoing renovations there are no outhouses on the way. Also part the park where the campground is, was completely closed.

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The start of the drive included these stunning solid walls of rock. You have to stay on the roads and trails but these types of walls exist all around Moab including some outside the national parks. We saw rock climbers of various sorts outside the park walls. If I were younger and stronger I suspect I would be among them.

We first really spectacular site we saw was the balancing rock. There is a short trail that allows you to walk all the way around and see it from all sides. I couldn’t help but feel a certain affinity for the balancing rock. It kind of parallels certain parts of my life where a lot of deliberate balancing was required to stay upright. Life is much easier now, being retired with all the kids grown up.

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And then there were arches! This might sound silly but in all the pictures I have seen of the arches I never got a proper perspective on how huge these things are! They are enormous several stories high and stunningly beautiful in person. No picture can convey the grandeur and beauty. There was one place where we could, after a short steep walk, get right up underneath the arches and still monitor the truck and dogs while we did. I was so drawn I almost ran.

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Dick could not resist getting right under the arch and taking pictures of a precarious looking boulder as big as our truck that looked like it could fall out at any time.

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I took this picture of Dick and another man who were both photographing the underside of the arch for perspective. This allows you to get a feel for just how huge the arches are.

We spent about three and a half hours viewing the arches before making the trip back down to the visitor centre for an overdue bathroom break. I was very glad we did not chose to go on Thanksgiving Day itself. We drove by the gate to Arches on our way to our next adventure in Canyonlands Thanksgiving Day and we passed a long and slow moving line at the entrance gate going from the gate all the way back to the highway. I would strongly advise avoiding the place on any holiday.

I can now cross the Arches National Park in Utah off my bucket list. I am very glad I came and it was well worth the trip.

 

 

Traveling To Moab

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We left Scipio after getting our trailer repaired and stopped for the night in Salina. There was a neat little campground there called Butch Cassidy RV Park. The WIFI did not work beyond some very small tight pull through spots. Aside from that it was a good place. They had two pet goats wandering about and watching Misty see goats for the first time was hilarious. We left refreshed and ready for the road. Just in case you are every in the area Route 50 is a very easy drive with no surprises, steep hills or other issues.

The drive from Salina to Moab was another story. In spite of it being an interstate, there were several very steep hills going up between  valleys. Our truck was able to handle all but one. It was so steep that I had to pull over to let the tranny cool and then finish the last quarter mile of the climb with my truck in low, four wheel drive low and crawl along on the shoulder at a 3mph. Fortunately for us that seems to happen a lot because the shoulder was clear and a highway patrol whizzed by without a sideways glance at us. If I ever move to the mountains I’ll need to buy a more powerful truck. My poor F150 is perfectly fine out on the prairie but not on mountain roads. There was on really harrowing 6%, 6 miles of downhill grade with many sharp curves that required dropping to 40 mph and a lot of concentration for me. I did it, but with lots of time in low gear and my brake pads were gleaming and clean when we took a break at the bottom.

The trail has many rest stops and viewing areas. We stopped at Castle Valley. The view was spectacular and a welcome start to our Moab area look. We made some guesses about what might account for the spectacular formations. We later learned this had once been an ocean. In fact there have been 27 times this area has been inundated by an ocean.

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We continued our trip in and arrived at Moab about 5:00pm. The first campground we were originally thinking of staying at was gone. We found another Spanish Trail RV Park nearby that was very reasonable for Moab at $30/night. We registered for a week and settled in. What a spectacular view we have!

 

Near Disaster Averted – Another Travel Repair Emergency

We were having some trouble with one tire. It was low when we left Manitoba and twice I had to stop and add air. We pulled into a gas station to fill up. The gas station was very busy but the shop was quiet. The mechanic came over to admire our canoe and ask about Manitoba. I soon found myself chatting with about the problem of the tire. He looked at the tire and immediately spotted a potentially much more serious problem. One of our shackle bolts were in a grave state and need replacing. The shackle bolt holds two parts of the suspension together. A careful inspection of the tire showed it had a nail in it and worse, some very serious wear patterns.

This led him to recommending replacing all the shackle bolts.  This was one of those times when I seriously wondered if he was trying to rip me off. Lord knows there is always someone ready to take your money. However there was no debating that the shackle bolt looked ‘off’ nor was there any questions the tire was a mess. So I agree to let him replace one set of shackle bolts and buy one new tire.

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As soon as he got the first shackle bolt off I could see we had a serious problem. The shackle bolt was very badly worn and mere millimetres from breaking. When I thought of a sudden break down on one of those mountain pass roads we had just traveled I felt ill. The mechanic strongly advised me to replace all four shackle bolt sets and upgrade into a much better quality type with a brass bushing that was one could add grease to. I really hate being in the position of simply having to trust someone without first being able to do my own on line research. However, there was no question those shackle bolts needed replacing. He was not busy and had everything on hand and he promised us we could be done and back on the road in an hour. I gritted my teeth and told him to go ahead.

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He was as good as his word about the shackle bolts. Unfortunately, as he inspected the tires we found two more tires with issues. One tire was unevenly worn on the inside and also had some flat pocked spots like the tire with the nail. The other tire had developed a nasty bump/bulge on one side. When I ran my fingers over it, it was clear the tire was in bad shape and ready to blow. So we replaced two more tires.

The bill was $735.12. Half of that was the tires. Most of the rest was shop time. One bolt was so bad it had to be cut off. The actual cost of the new shackle bolts was not that much. With three new tires and the price of parts plus the time taken it was not unreasonable. Given time to shop around I might have been able to get it done cheaper with my own mechanic back home 2200km away and maybe find a sale on those tires. Yet, under the circumstances it seemed reasonable to just pay up and get it done then and there. Still I couldn’t help but feel like I was been railroaded into a far more expensive repair than I really needed. Maybe it could have waited. Maybe he wasn’t just being nice about the canoe but had been inspecting my trailer looking for some way to get me into the shop. He was just too convincing and sincere, it was just all too convenient. If he was a con man, he was one of the slickest and best I had ever met. Even as I felt that, I also knew enough to know the three tires were in bad shape and needed replacing. There was also no arguing about the wear on the shackle bolts.

Three hours later and considerably poorer we pulled out. I could feel an immediate and remarkable improvement in the handling of the trailer. There was no question that it was riding much more smoothly. Later on, I read up on shackle bolts and RVs and everything I researched suggested that we had been guided to do the right thing by a competent mechanic. So, I have decided the mechanic was not ripping us off. He was our guardian angle, whose casual interest in our canoe made me ask about the tire with a slow leak. This led to him saving us from a major break down somewhere along the way.

The moral is that sometimes stuff breaks down and wear and tear happens and if you are lucky, it happens in a good place with a competent mechanic handy who has all the parts you need to fix the problem. We got lucky. I think.

Storm Stayed

HighwayMapDick finished up his conference in a fine mood. I was watching the forecast because a storm was coming in. The weatherman said snow would start 11:00am Friday morning. It would end before midnight followed by some wind. Dick was finished at 12:30pm. I decided to pass the time by making fresh bread and preparing a nice dinner. Our plan was to leave the next morning. Men plan, God laughs. He had a good chuckle that day. Promptly at 11:00am the snow started. By the time I went to pick up Dick the roads were icy and a real mess even in town.

A young man, a student, attending the conference caught a lift with us to our end of town where he was supposed to catch a Greyhound bus to Denver. To save money the student had been staying in a tent in the same campground as us so we were giving him lifts back and forth. Due to the imminent wet snow he had taken his tent down and packed everything into his back pack. Now his bus was delayed and he literally had everything he owned on his back. So we had a guest for dinner.

We monitored the continuing deterioration of the highways by the progress of his bus. Finally, we headed over to the bus station and dropped him off at 7:44pm. Just before I went to sleep the highways map showed conditions so dangerous that sections of the highway were now closed.

We are near the interstate and I was awoken about 1:00am by a weird quiet. I peeked out the window and saw rows and rows and rows of semis on the side of the highway. A check of the map showed everything was red, closed, for miles in all directions. The back end of the cold front moved past shortly afterward with intense rocking winds that made our trailer sway alarmingly.

We woke up ready to get on the road. We had a nice breakfast, showered and packed everything up. The map said the highways would open between 10:30am and 12:30pm. Due to the cold meaning the furnace ran a lot overnight, we had an empty propane tank. We decided to head into the town and get that filled before we left. While we were doing that, we ended up talking to several of the locals about the road conditions. Everyone said we should not head out as soon as the highways opened. One man in particular was adamant. The roads might open at 10:30am as we hoped but there was no way the highway would be safe for us pulling a trailer. He strongly advised us to wait a day.

We had some time to kill so we left the store and took the dogs for one last romp at the dog park. In the dog park we got the same advice. Wait. On our way back to the campground we could see lines and lines and line of semis. Every back street, parking lot and empty space had a semi parked there. Among the semis were a few recreational vehicles, buses with passengers and weaving in and out with flashing lights, highway patrol. We looked at the highways map one more time and it said the road was open going west, closed going east and in several places there were high winds with an extreme rollover danger. Semis began pulling out of Laramie to head west in long lines. I went and paid for another night instead.

I have always made it a policy to follow the advice of the locals. If they say something is dangerous, I assume they are right and I listen. We had a nice quiet day of fixing items and relaxing and watching TV. About 5:00pm, I checked the highways map again. A huge exclamation mark brought up a message saying a vehicle had been blown over and caused a multi-car pile up and the highway was now closed to west bound traffic. That could have been us. I am so glad we stayed put. The highways map now shows almost all green. A few spots are orange and there are only two black ice warnings. Hopefully, we’ll get up and find the highway all green and be on our way early in the morning. If not, well there are worse things than spending another say in a safe campground with full services, good WIFI and cable.

Our latest trip south.

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Leaving Manitoba to drive south in winter is a dicey affair. No matter what the weather forecast says, you are bound to be surprised. This trip was no exception. We awoke on the 12th, our scheduled departure date, to find it was snowing. And it kept right on snowing right until we got over the US border. This meant a trip that would normally take about three hours took five. We paused for a break in McCreary, Neepawa and Brandon in order to deal with issues like a puppy who needed a walk and bathroom breaks. By the time we got to Brandon I was thoroughly chilled in spite of my winter outerwear and thermal underwear. Hot coffee never tasted so good!

Our original destination was a campground in Dickinson ND. Unfortunately we found ourselves only at Minot ND when darkness fell with blowing snow and nasty cold winds. We detoured off to Swenson’s RV repair and campground.  Exhausted and cold we arrived after the office had closed and we couldn’t find the campground host. I’m not sure why because when we rolled out there was a huge sign by the first campsite near the door. We rolled into an open pull through, plugged in the electric and settled in. The temperature was -17C (1F) and forecast to drop to -22C (-8F). The furnace ran without a pause all night and we had two electric heaters and our little electric countertop oven open and on. We snuggled under our electric blanket which was set on the highest level. We were barely warm enough. I was so grateful Swenson’s was open! We would never have made it through the night with just propane heat from the furnace.

Morning dawned bright and early. Since we fell asleep by about 8:00pm we were up at 5:00am. We were off to Dickinson. I felt really bad because there was no where to leave an envelope with our payment. We got to Dickinson very early and gained an hour due to the change to Mountain time. We stopped for breakfast at MacDonald’s and a cup of hot coffee never tasted so good. First thing I did was send the folks at Swenson’s an email to tell them we had been there and needed to pay them. After some searching I found a campground in Rapid City that was not only open, but in an “above freezing daytime” forecast zone. We decided to continue on.

That long long long stretch between Dickinson ND and Rapid City SD seemed like it would never end. We did see antelope, jackrabbits, mules deer, flocks and Canada geese, partridges, and a pheasant. That helped break up the trip. We made a few stops at bleak windy cold roadside stops. Somewhere along the way we noticed we had left the snow behind and we were relieved.

Misty had been very well behaved the entire trip. She either slept or followed what was going on outside with great interest. About an hour and half from our destination she had just had enough. She started puppy crying and howling and barking at us. If she could  have talked I’m sure she would have said “When are we going to get there??? How much farther do we have to go??? I want to go HOME!!!” In spite of two more breaks and a surprise chewy, offers of food and water, she remained inconsolable. I felt really bad for her but there was nothing to do but push on. Eventually she put her head down where Dick could reach and he rubbed her ears and talked to her and she settled enough to finish the last part of the trip quietly.

We pulled into Happy Holiday Resort after dark and we were warmly welcomed by the staff there. I can’t describe how nice it is to arrive at a campground exhausted, cold, hungry, and we welcomed with a cheerful attitude and a perfect campsite. I had some pre-made hot chilli and I made some rice. While the rice cooked we went for a nice long walk with the dogs. We all fell asleep early again.

In the morning I was awoken by steady dripping. It was already above freezing and all the accumulated snow and ice was beginning to melt. By the time we finished making breakfast, the solar panel’s regulator was humming. The sun was strong enough and the ice had melted enough that the panels were actually charging again. After breakfast I went to the campground shower and enjoyed a long hot shower. It was wonderful to feel clean and warm again. Our hosts refilled the propane tank we emptied overnight in Minot for a modest $18. We then took the dogs for another nice long walk. Because of skipping Dickinson and driving so far the second day out we found ourselves a day ahead of schedule. The campground was so pleasant we paid for a second night. The WIFI was really good and among other things we settled with Swenson’s for our surprise stay. I had a nice correspondence via email with the staff there I am thinking we will go by again if we can in future.

On the way out, we went by Mount Rushmore. We had a little misadventure on the way in because the highway was so steep on the last two miles that we could only climb with the truck on low four wheel drive and first gear at a crawl. That was harrowing but we made it. (Note to others, take the southern route in. It is much less steep.) We had been at Mount Rushmore many years before but because we spent so much time at the Crazy Horse exhibit we had just stopped by the roadside for a few minutes and then continued. This trip we paid our $5 fe and went in and looked at the displays and the museum. We took a selfie to prove we had been there. I can’t say I like how I look in the picture but it is a good shot of Hubby Dearest. The sunshine was such a pleasure! We then continued on into Wyoming.

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The trip to Wyoming was uneventful. Our plan was to stay in a free campsite in a place called Wheatland. We go there early enough we decided to push on through to Laramie. We had let the KOA know we might be a day early and so they were prepared. We decided not to take a recommended shortcut via highway 34 because the map had a mountain pass on it. We weren’t sure about how high the pass was, how our trailer would manage or the weather as we had a strong north wind blowing up to 60 km/hr (40mph). We had the wind to our back on the interstate and so the trip into Cheyenne was easy. I hardly even had to put my foot on the gas. The uphills were ridiculously easy with the wind. The trip from Cheyenne to Laramie was really difficult even though it was on an interstate. It seemed like all we did was climb and climb against a cross wind and a few times I could barely hit 60km/h (40m/h).

We finally crawled into the Laramie KOA just before 6:00pm. We checked in and picked up some packages that we had arranged to mail ahead and made ourselves at home. I was shaking and feeling light headed and numb. I think I was reacting to going from 1200ft in Manitoba to 7200ft in Laramie with only two days acclimatizing at 3200ft in South Dakota. We went to bed early again and then after another delightful hot shower we did some grocery shopping. Dick’s conference registration was at 4:30pm and they served all kinds of sushi as the welcome snack. YUM!

This KOA campground is fine. One thing it has which I really appreciate is a fenced dog play area big enough for Misty to go a flat out run. We have been visiting it several times a day. The traffic noice is a bit much as we are right near the interstate but it is temporary. I have plenty to do.

We are set to stay a week in Laramie. In addition to the major repair of getting our hot water heater unit in, I made arrangements to get the truck a slightly over due tune up and finally fix the slow leak in the tranny. Dick meanwhile is attending a conference. He is having a blast while I entertain the dogs and get stuff done.

Venus Modeling Workhshop

Changing the hot water heater unit in our trailer.

While we were at a family camping trip last summer we discovered that our hot water (combination electric or propane) was leaking. In the leaking water was antifreeze. After a bit of investigating we determined the water was coming from somewhere on the underside of the hot water heater. We shut off the valve that is supposed to by pass the hot water heater but we still had a leak. For the balance of our camping trip we had to do without running water. This was very upsetting because we thought we had a bypass. I eventually determined that the check valve installed on the hot water intake was not working. This meant the bypass was failing.

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Check valve that represents one half of the hot water bypass. This check valve failed.

After we returned I started telephoning the nearby RV repair places to find out about getting it fixed. I was horrified to hear the replacement was going to cost somewhere in the range of $1600. That is a lot of money and I decided before shelling it out, I would try to fix it myself.

The first step was to learn how to get at the tank. Stuff in RVs is packed in tight spaces and is very intimidating. Fortunately, I found this you tube video that described how to get the unit out. Thank you thank you

I watched it several time with my husband and we set out to remove the unit. We worked about 4 hours to get it out. A careful inspection of the unit and we found a small crack on the bottom. It was a tiny little hole looking to be about 3mm long and a half a mm wide. Yet it was enough of a leak to soak the floor in ten minutes. We are fortunate to have a neighbour who does a lot of welding and he kindly stopped by to check. His diagnosis was not good news. After poking the hole and banging and inspecting he said the tank was corroded on the inside. Probably the antifreeze in the tank due to the failed check valve had been a contributing factor. Welding it would be difficult since it was aluminum and it probably would either not work or the corroded tank would just start leaking somewhere else. He recommended replacing the tank.

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I did a bunch of research on line and compared the price of the entire unit versus just the tank. As is often the case, the additional cost for the whole unit was not that much more than the cost of just the tank. The seven year old unit was having some issues with a constantly leaking pressure valve and the ignition system, while working, was also corroding. We decided to just pay the extra to get a new unit.

We immediately came up against the Canadian problem. The new unit ordered from the RV dealers in the area was going to $850 to $1200. Ordered directly from a Canadian dealer it would be $850. If I ordered it from the USA I would have to worry about taxes, duties and brokers fees. If I could order it from the US, and have it delivered to the US, I could get it for $452 Canadian. I am not sure why Canadians have to pay double plus for RV parts but we do. We opted to replace the unit after arriving in the USA. Due to our very cold fall weather, even if the water was working properly, we would have the trailer winterized with antifreeze and unusable anyway.  I called the Laramie KOA we were planning on staying at for a full week while my husband attended a conference. They cheerfully agreed to accept the part there and hold it until we arrived. Meantime, I put the old unit back in without connecting the plumbing in order to fill the hole and make it proper as far as customs was concerned. I could legitimately tell them I had replaced a broken hot water heater unit with the same model while were in the USA. No duty, taxes or import issues that way. On arrival at Laramie our new hot water heater unit was waiting.

It took very little effort to remove the old one and set it beside the new one. Everything was a perfect match. I just pulled out the screws, cut the wiring and pulled the unit out.

The new unit looked so sharp and clean in it’s nice insulation box. It came with some extra corner braces and new hinge thingies for the door. It did not come with the door but that was okay because we had the old door.

I nearly made one potentially disastrous mistake. While I was proudly photographing the old and new tanks I heard a meow and turned around and spotted my cat checking out the new cat door. After chasing him back inside I propped the old outside door inside in order to keep the cat in.

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First step was to match up the wires. I decided not to touch the old connectors and risk mixing up the previous wiring job. I just connected to old wires at the point I had cut them. That way was really easy because it was all colour coded. I used regular twist electrical connectors. The new wiring had to be carefully tucked back in on the top right but it went in. It took a bit of fiddling and wiggling. The trickiest part of the slide in process was to get the propane connection into the hole. I did that by tucking the propane connection to one side until the unit was almost in and then I went inside and there was just enough room to nudge it into the general vicinity of the hole. I had to go back out and fish around to find it and then carefully finish the process of nudging the unit in. It was too bad hubby dearest was off at his conference because I had to take multiple trips in and out in order to get the unit finally seated properly. I was assisted by Misty decided to jump on me and give me many puppy kisses each time I was working from the inside. This slowed me down some, but did cheer me up.

Once the unit was in place I was able to reconnect the propane and I used the nice shiny new corner braces with the old screws. The flange arrived sticking out and had to be bent back but it went easily. There was more than enough putty left to easily seal the new flanges.

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And it is done! At least on the outside. Now that I no longer needed the door to prevent the cat from escaping I put it on over the nice new shiny unit.

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Once the unit was in place outside, it was time to go to the back and connect the wiring and plumbing inside. I decided this time I was putting in a valve that manually opened and closed instead of a check valve. That way, if this ever happens again I can actually block off the hot water heater from the rest of the system and not be stuck with no water at all. Of course now that I have planned on it, it will never actually happen. I ended up making a couple of trips to the hardware store to get the correct new manual valve and some new connectors. Here you can see just before I started connecting the plumbing and electrical. I used lots of teflon tape on metal parts and I tightened as much as I could. It was a bear of a job because it was in such a small space but my vise grip sure came in handy.

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And finally I needed to reconnect three wires from the trailer electrical supply from the unit. It’s now in and reconnected.

We are in an area where the forecast says it is still too cold to risk adding water to test the new unit. I expect to see lots of leaks at various points in the plumbing connections that will need more tightening. I am not that strong and it will have to be something hubby dearest does. I am assuming, of course, that the new unit is not defective. I suppose we could fill and test in a few weeks and discover something wrong and have to take it all out, send it back and start all over again. The company I dealt with is not one where I have ever had any issues so I am not expecting any. I am counting it done.

So we saved will over $1000 by doing this fix by ourselves and arranging a delivery of the new unit in the USA. It was not a hard fix. It was a multicuss job with lots of fussing but it was not hard. Even taking into account some six hours of work figuring things out and removing the unit the first time and four hours of putting the new unit back in, I figure my effort was worth about $100/hour. And that is a good thing.

Update Nov 22: We finally got far enough south to be able to use our water system again. As I expected I had two joints that needed tightening to stop leaks. One connecting elbow broke instead of tightening more. (ARRGG!!) I had to make another trip to the hardware store to replace that. The unit itself is now working perfectly!